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Friday, June 01, 2018

Adrift

There's nothing wrong with the story that Adrift is trying to tell, or the actors telling it.  I think my personal issue came with the way the filmmakers try to tell it.  This true survival story of a young couple stranded at sea after the boat they're on together is caught in a massive tropical storm tries to be two movies at once.  The survival story is constantly interrupted by flashbacks to the couple in happier times, where they dive off cliffs into sparkling waters, talk of their love for each other, and make a lot of meaningful glances into each other's eyes. 

I think this flashback structure was the wrong path for the screenplay to take, as it's constantly killing the tension of the survival situation.  A more straightforward narrative that followed the couple from their first meeting, leading up to the harrowing situation at sea would have been preferable, I personally think.  It also would have made the movie feel less fragmented and disjointed.  As it is, it's certainly not terrible, but it seems to move in short bursts of energy, surrounded by scenes where the young lovers fall for each other, but due to the random nature of the screenplay constantly cutting back and forth between two moments in the characters' lives, we never feel as close to them as we should.  The young couple of Tami (Shailene Woodley) and Richard (Sam Claflin) are attractive together, but a physical attraction is all the screenplay is really able to tell us about them, and what drew them together.

Even the scenes of survival seem strangely muted here, because the movie gives the injured and increasingly dire couple little to play against.  Woodley as Tami has to pull most of the weight as she struggles to chart a course to land with a severely damaged boat, and little supplies.  Claflin as Richard spends most of his screentime in these scenes lying incapacitated, so he does not get to contribute much.  And while Woodley does bring the right amount of determination and at times despair to her performance, there's just ultimately not a whole lot to work with.  I was reminded often of All is Lost, a film from a few years ago starring Robert Redford as a man lost at sea, and how that film made so much out of its minimalist premise, and even less dialogue.  Redford was able to convey so much intensity, drama and emotion by saying little, and keep the audience riveted.  Here, we certainly feel for Tami in her situation (How can we not?), but it never quite reaches the dramatic heights that we are expecting.

Adrift has chosen to go for a strictly cinematic route, and it's not just the fact that the survival story is interrupted by flashbacks ever five minutes it seems.  There's a music score that exists to spell out every emotion, and Woodley is forced to talk out loud to herself constantly, almost as if she is feeding information to the audience about her situation.  There is also a third act reveal that I will not spoil here that doesn't work.  It will make those familiar with the story somewhat confused throughout the film until the reveal comes.  It's hard to talk about without going into specifics, but when it arrived, it felt more like a cinematic film device, rather than a necessity to the story itself.  I can see why the filmmakers went with the decision they went with, but it's yet another reminder that what we're watching is staged, and kind of lessens the dramatic impact that would have been strengthened with a more realistic approach.

And yet, large parts of the film do indeed work.  Woodley is intense, and makes the most out of her role, and we feel for her as she slowly begins to fall into hopelessness as the days and eventually weeks at sea go by.  She starts the film out as sort of a wild child in her early 20s, just traveling the world, not really staying in one place for very long.  When she meets the handsome Richard, we can see the appeal, and the actors do have chemistry together.  They seem to be making the most of a screenplay that doesn't go as deep into their relationship as it should.  They hook up instantly, start dreaming of going on adventures with each other, and even talk of getting married.  Then the movie will flash forward to the present, with them stranded and near-death.  These scenes are supposed to show the depth of their love as they try to survive, but due to the fragmented nature of the film, it never quite reaches the level of intensity that it should.

This is a movie that would have benefited from a more traditional narrative, and a stronger emphasis on character.  What's here is fine, but the screenplay never quite rises to the challenge.  I'm not sorry that I saw Adrift, I just was expecting to walk out a bit more engaged than I had been.

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