Fresh from various film festival victories and still ringing with applause, NYAD arrives at last on both streaming platforms and the commercial screen, as splendid and captivating as ever. It’s the winning tabulate of tenacity, friendship, grit and drive that catapulted marathon swimmer Diana Nyad to fame as the first person to make the 110-mile, 62-hour non-stop trip from Cuba to Florida in shark-infested waters without a shark tank. Under the aegis of ordinary filmmakers, it might be an extraordinary sports saga about an extraordinary woman beating overwhelming odds, but carefully and meticulously chronicled in their feature narrative debut by the marvelous, prize-winning documentarians Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and her husband Jimmy Chin (Free Solo, The Rescue) and flawlessly written by Julia Cox, it combines archival material with the powerful passion and pulse-pounding obsession of a woman who did not know the definition of the word “failure”—a story that resonates long after the final frame, served and informed by the two devastating center-ring performances of Annette Bening as Nyad and Jodie Foster as her coach, best friend and one-time lover, Bonnie Stoll. The result of so much consecration and loyalty to the subject matter is a movie of uncommon exhilaration.
NYAD ★★★★ (4/4 stars)
Nyad was 61 years old and retired from her athletic career as a champion swimmer for 30 years when she decided to hit the
At 64, sick and half-dead from four aborted tries that ended in failure, deserted at last by her crew and even her loving, sympathetic friend and coach, she ignored the sports world that wrote her off as a fool and resigned herself to one more plunge. “We’re already broke,” shrugged her navigator, “so what’s a little more broke?” On August 31, 2013, it started again—this time for keeps. Her crew reluctantly re-assembled and joined her in the project, because if she finally made it, they couldn’t bear not to share the stardom. She nearly became shark bait, but destiny miraculously played a winning hand, and on September 2, 2013, she heroically achieved her dream at last, 35 years and five attempts after she started. The world rejoiced, and once you experience this captivating film, so will you.
From Christopher Tellefsen’s sharp editing to the magnetic Alexandre Desplat score, every element blends with perfection to create a masterpiece. But it is still the compelling power of the two stars who turn NYAD into a film that soars to unforgettable heights. Jodie Foster balances the centrifugal force of Annette Bening’s exploding charisma with a winning mixture of tough resilience and understated sensitivity, while Annette Bening admirably avoids every attempt to make Diana Nyad into a lovable cliche of Hollywood heroism.
Bossy, selfish, often insensitive to the needs of others, with an ego the size of South America fueled by pride, she’s so real and so complex that you love her, flaws and all. She does all of her own swimming, spending 90 percent of the film soaking wet, but without the glamour of Esther Williams. Stripped of their natural beauty, all weathered lines and sun-bleached wrinkles, the film is so physically challenging and emotionally draining that I was mesmerized by their nuanced naturalism. If there’s any justice, they’ll both be remembered when the awards season rolls around. Jodie Foster has already won two Best Actress Oscars, and Annette Bening has been nominated four times. Isn’t it time the film industry stopped wasting time and gave her an Oscar of her own for NYAD? If that happens, I’ll be leading the applause.