I’ve been looking forward to Baltasar Kormákur’s Adrift partially because I’ve been a fan of Shailene Woodley since her work in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants and partially because I’ve seen a trailer for this film before literally every movie I’ve seen for the last six weeks (except for last night’s). Aside from all of that, the film seemed positioned to be a solid and simple survival thriller focused on relatable peril amidst the standard flashiness of the big summer blockbusters. Variety is the proverbial spice of life and my hope was that Adrift would offer some sophisticated adult entertainment to help balance the four-quadrant spectacles currently occupying most screens. Ultimately, the film is a mixed bag.
The film tells the true story of Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp (Woodley and Sam Claflin, respectively). A pair of adventurers, the two meet in Tahiti and begin to date when, five months later, Richard is commissioned to sail a couple’s boat to California. Along the way, disaster strikes as the couple encounters a devastating hurricane that leaves the boat wrecked and their chances of survival slim, at best.
Adrift is essentially a two-person show, with Woodley carrying slightly more of the narrative weight than Claflin (let’s call it a 60/40 split). Both leads do a commendable job of selling the peril in which their characters find themselves, though more is required of Woodley. She unquestionably delivers in that regard, handily conveying Tami’s alternating hopeless frustration and her stubborn optimism. Woodley is downright powerful in certain scenes and simply gets more of a chance to shine than does Claflin.
I saw one review featuring a headline decrying the film for being more romance than survival. Aside from the fact that any respectable critic should be embarrassed to be found pigeonholing a filmmaker’s creative vision, that criticism simply isn’t accurate. The movie is pretty evenly split between the relationship component (which is necessary to attempt to create a connection with the audience) and the survival aspect. In addition to that, Kormákur has the wherewithal to forego structuring the film in a linear fashion, instead opting to interweave the flashback relationship-building scenes with the present post-hurricane recovery efforts. So, no matter which type of film one prefers – romance or survival – the wait is never more than a handful of minutes in order to get a taste of that particular flavor.
And though the romance/survival balance is appropriate (and as advertised), it’s in the relationship between the two protagonists where the film mostly underwhelms. Again, I’m aware that the film is based on a true story and seems to adhere fairly closely to the real-life events that transpired in the mid-eighties (don’t expect to count this among the recent eighties revivals, though; that aesthetic is virtually absent), I had trouble buying into the supposedly deep emotional connection between Tami and Richard. When they encounter the hurricane, they have only been together for a handful of months. And, yes, people meet and “fall in love” in shorter spans of time than is the case here, but that doesn’t mean I believe it to be true or even possible. Because I don’t. (And don’t write or comment with your own individual tale of love at first sight or some such. Your story isn’t going to convince me any more than anyone else’s. But congrats on ultimately making it work.)
But even if I did, I wouldn’t have believed it, here. Both Woodley and Claflin are capable talents but I felt no real, palpable connection – no chemistry – between the two. I never once believed that each could motivate the other to survive against the odds. I never once believed that they were star-crossed or destined to meet. They come across as any other ordinary, everyday couple who have been dating for five months. Even in Titanic, the premise of the relationship between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack and Kate Winslet’s Rose is wholly unrealistic – not even close to being believable – but DiCaprio and Winslet managed to convince audiences otherwise, to the tune of over two billion dollars. That won’t be happening, here. (And Jack couldn’t have survived at the end, folks. Sorry. But I’ll leave that for a future #ThrowbackThursday. Speaking of which you can find all of those here!). I’m tempted to blame the script – largely due to my affinity for Woodley – but if DiCaprio and Winslet can make an even more absurd scenario work, Woodley and Claflin should have been able to find a spark, here. And Blake Lively even formed a stronger bond with her absent family through a cell phone in 2016’s fantastic shark/survival thriller The Shallows (check out that review here) than anything found in this film. Still, both Woodley and Claflin are strong when faced with their characters’ potential deaths.
As I referenced above, I applaud Kormákur’s editing choices in order to keep the film interesting, though it could have been trimmed by ten or fifteen minutes and been a little better off, as the film begins to drag a bit towards the end. Outside of that and the lifeless relationship at the heart of the film, Adrift is a serviceable survival picture. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but the survival scenes are compelling enough, and the film is beautifully shot. The true story component also adds an element of resonance though, without that, Adrift would be fine, but immemorable. For a truly gripping and exciting survival picture, see the previously mentioned The Shallows. Adrift is mostly recommended for Woodley and Claflin fans, though if you’ve seen everything else that interests you, it’s an okay way to spend a couple of hours.