Adrift is both more and less than I expected. I expected long, languid scenes of a sailboat floating aimlessly at sea; I expected storms; I expected frequent stretches where Tami (Shailene Woodley) learns to sail. Those bits were in there. What I didn’t expect: the absence of any kind of compelling narrative in what should have been a gripping tale of survival, guts, and grit.
I’m not putting it down lightly. It looked like a fantastic movie from the trailers. I personally like disaster stories, and will hang in there for extended stretches of silence if the action, plot, or characterization is good enough.
Or even if the scenery is good enough.
Making ocean scenes pretty should be an easy task, but everything in Adrift was fraught with glare. That might have been a creative choice to impart a sense of peril, but I feel it’s just a missed opportunity. Instead of offering a great cinematic experience, it comes across like a documentary. Worse, a cheap one.
I wondered previously if Woodley was seasoned enough to carry an entire movie — and in fact almost an entirely silent one — on her back. The answer shown here is: no, she can’t, at least not yet. Emily Blunt would have knocked it out of the park. (In fact, in the recently fantastic A Quiet Place, Blunt did just that — with less dialog.)
I think the non-linear storytelling device hampers any attempt to build tension, stamping the movie with the cardinal sin of being boring. Adrift should have been told in a straightforward manner, starting with Tami meeting Richard, getting to know him, talking about their journey, and setting off towards disaster. Instead, we start in the immediate aftermath of the event. From then on, the story shuffles between three different timelines. Every time things start to build any emotional resonance, the direction cuts to somewhere else.
I’m not saying every movie has to follow a linear narrative, but what Adrift attempted to do didn’t work. If you are going for an artsy route, you need the right directorial experience, with high-caliber actors to pull it off.
In any case, it made finding Peetimes pretty easy: there really was only one scene where you can’t hop out to the bathroom.
This film is apparently based on a true story, and maybe there just wasn’t enough meat in the sandwich…but you know you’re in trouble when a short movie like this still feels too long.
Movie Grade: C-
SPOILER TO FOLLOW:
I think the choice of having there be a surprise twist felt cheap. I expected the character of Richard to be a co-starring role, not an almost silent phantom. All their lines together were probably in the trailers, leading me to think that they would work together to get out of their mess – him via talking her through it, her by learning from his commands. Instead, we have a sort of Life of Pi/Fight Club/The 6th Sense scenario going on. Those movies are top notch and earned their endings. This one just sort of…happened. Since I had no investment in anything onscreen by then, the big reveal felt pointless.
Here are links to the true-life book Adrift was based on, plus A Quiet Place, which we can’t say enough good things about: