By Don Morton
November 17, 2023
It would be great if Nyad was the birth name of the great long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad. It’s the ancient Greek term for “water sprite.” But, no, she took it from her dodgy stepfather, apparently a smuggler.
Diana first made the news in 1975 when she set the record for swimming around Manhattan Island. Then again in 1979 when she swam from Bimini to Florida. But the big prize, swimming the 180K from Cuba to Key West, eluded her. She went on to a successful career as a sports journalist.
We join Diana (Annette Bening) decades later. She’s just turned 60 and gets it into her very stubborn head to give it another shot. This time she’ll do it without a shark cage, relying instead on advanced anti-shark technologies and various jellyfish protection devices.
She and her lifelong friend and coach Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster) begin a training regimen and assemble a team that includes a grizzled Florida charter boat skipper. Rhys Ifans in the role is as important to the movie as his character was in charting a way through the fast-moving Gulf Stream. She fails at her first shot, then starts planning a second, and then a third.
Personally, I can’t get too excited about stubborn ego-tripping athletes that risk their lives and the lives of others to attain their fever dreams. Reference Free Solo. But I’ll admit to getting a little misty at this film’s conclusion. And for a sports-underdog, triumph-over-adversity movie, it doesn’t feel at all formulaic.
On the minus side, it ignores Nyad’s alleged fact-fudging and egotism (her crowning feat was never certified, and Guinness revoked her mention) and strips her of her complexities.
Now, I’m not blind to the plight of aging actresses and the dearth of good parts available in Hollywood today. But I’d rather watch these two legends interact (the best bits take place on dry land) than sit through Jane Fonda et al frolicking through such moronic fluff as 80 for Brady. On Netflix. (121 min)