The only time I really think about being lost at sea or stranded on a deserted island is when someone asks me what books/movies/music would I need in order to adjust to my new life. And let’s be real, that list totally depends on if rescue isn’t coming. So, the premise of Adrift (and the memoir it’s based on) isn’t something that naturally pushes its way to the top of my “to read/to watch” list.
Adrift stars Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin as Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp. The pair meet in Tahiti. Tami’s working her way around the world (with an ease that would absolutely not happen in a post-9/11 world). Richard is sailing through life (literally) on a boat he built himself.
The two hit it off and are soon inseparable. They run into friends of Richard’s and agrees to sail the couple’s 44-foot sailboat to California for them. They had no idea that journey would put them smack in the middle of one of the worst hurricanes in record history.
Adrift is a based (loosely) on a true story.
Keep that in mind, because this film time-slips between the past and present with deceptive ease. I’m not often screaming with delight when a story unfolds in a non-linear fashion. However, this story takes place in real world 1983 and the dynamic opening (no I’m not going to tell you) sucks you in more authentically than if you meet Tami as she disembarks from calm waters all smiles and sunshine.
Screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kandell pieced together a film as though giving the audience a peek into the couple’s diaries and photo journals. The tone and emotional choices they made highlight the depth of character and central emotions driving Tami and Richard before, during, but especially after the storm upends their entire lives. There’s never a word, where silence is more profound. No over-emoting, or drama for drama’s sake. This is a story-line that reaches for your feelings then tries to squeeze.
Adrift looks As Intense As It (sometimes) Feels
Director Baltasar Kormákur and Cinematographer Robert Richardson created such a realistic physical environment that the ebb and flow of the story and oceanic elements work in concert to build intensity, hold the audience focus (the runtime notwithstanding) and gives a portrayal of the ocean’s turbulence and dangerous beauty that has to be seen to be believed. Every shot is breathtaking but never once does the film look overly fantastical. The ocean is most assuredly a character all on it’s own. A temperamental one at that.
Woodley and Claflin fit in this environment. There’s an ease to the relationship that enhances the necessary believability of the depth of feeling between the two (they’ve only known each other months). Adrift doesn’t work without different actors, at least not this version of the story.
Although not obvious at the beginning of the film (more due to the close-in-age looks of the actors), there’s a rather large age difference (seven years) that ordinarily would have these two people at very different (and incompatible) stages in life. But island living and their nomadic tendencies essentially obliterate what would otherwise be a cavernous divide between them. Given that the past scenes are all flashbacks, assume the memory only shows each in their best light.
Adrift Leans Towards Love and Trauma
This is may ultimately end up being a story of unrelenting perseverance, but it starts with a “meet-cute” and ends up as a tragic love story. Woodly and Claflin pull it off making these two people feel tangible and vulnerable on screen.
Adrift is a story worth knowing (even with the deviations from fact) and a film best seen on a big screen. But this is a good way to bring a trapped at sea story to life. And the photo montage at the end just ups the emotional investment.