Sometimes, I can go into a movie with no expectations and still come out disappointed. Like when I reviewed Book Club.

Luckily, Adrift isn't one of those films. I quite enjoyed it, with a few caveats of course.

Adrift is based on the true story of Tami Oldham, a woman who set sail from Fiji for San Diego with her fiancee Richard Sharp in 1983, only for their small craft to get struck by Hurricane Raymond. Amazingly, Oldham managed to stay alive in the Pacific Ocean for over a month in the hobbled boat, and set a course for Hawaii to be rescued.

In the film, Oldham is played by Shailene Woodley (The Fault In Our Stars, Divergent), and she's portrayed as a young woman who left her home as soon as she could as a teen, who now goes wherever the currents of the ocean carry her. As we meet her, she arrives on Fiji and quickly meets up with the charming Richard Sharp (played by Sam Claflin), who spends his days adventuring the high seas in his little boat. The two immediately hit it off, and start a whirlwind romance focused on sailing.

Eventually, the pair take on an errand to run a friend's boat back to San Diego, a lengthy journey that eventually turns tragic. After the boat is severely damaged in the storm, they have to work to survive and ration what little supplies they have to make it to safety.

This story is told in a non-linear fashion; Adrift jumps between Tami and Richard in their courting period, and the boat post-storm. At first I wasn't a fan of this strategy, and I was wishing they would have spent more time focusing on the struggles of survival and less on the couple. After all, was this story really best told as a romance?

STX Entertainment via YouTube
STX Entertainment via YouTube

However, as the film continues, it all starts to work quite well. All the pieces come together like a puzzle, and by the time the credits rolled I was convinced the romance between Tami and Richard was absolutely critical to the overall theme and tone. Adrift isn't just a movie about a woman surviving in the ocean, it's a movie about that woman's experience and emotion while floating where few have gone before. In that respect, I appreciated it.

I appreciated the chemistry between Woodley and Claflin as well. For some reason, many movie romances don't do it for me; I can't feel the connection between the actors, and as a result I tune out instead of buy in. Whether this is a fault of Hollywood or a fault of my brain, I can't tell.

So much of Adrift is carried by Woodley's performance, and from what I've read she was totally invested in the project. It definitely shows; as Tami, she's a woman dealing with so much trauma, grief, loss, and pain that at some points is crippling. We watch her struggle, and cry, and scream, and face her own seemingly-inevitable death. Despite all of this, she continues sailing, and checking her course, and rationing her resources, underpinned by a determination to survive.

STX Entertainment via YouTube
STX Entertainment via YouTube

I do have a few criticisms of this film, however. As you might expect of a movie set on one boat, not a whole lot happens. There are a few points where the pacing really drags, and while in some ways this helps increase the feeling of dread and inevitability the characters face, in other ways it just left me bored.

As well, Adrift isn't exactly the largest budget film in the world, and this comes through jarringly in one particular scene. For the most part, the special effects of the water and storms were good enough, but at one point, Tami has to jump into the ocean to spearfish for food. This is supposed to be an emotional scene, because Tami is a vegetarian who feels disgusted by the idea of killing another animal for her own sake. The problem is, the special effects they used to create these fish are laughable. They look like 3D models from a 10 year old video game, and it took me out of the movie completely. Not a huge problem, but definitely one that annoyed me.

Now, how true-to-life is Adrift? As far as I know, all of the major parts of it are accurate. But when it comes to things like Tami's emotional journey on the boat, or the length and content of her romance with Richard, I have absolutely no clue. At the end of the day though, I don't think it matters; that's why this is a film, not a documentary reenactment.

I definitely enjoyed Adrift: it's a movie that stands on its own, that has enough action, romance, and art to at least be adequate to the vast majority of movie-goers. It's not anything special, but it's definitely good. In a culture where many people feel things are either the "BEST THING EVER" or the "WORST THING EVER", it's nice to get a movie like this.

See the trailer below.

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