Review: Annette Bening and Jodie Foster elevate a lackluster drama in “Nyad”.

The actresses shine in spite of a disappointing script in “Nyad”. Despite the film’s narrative shortcomings, Annette Bening and Jodie Foster deliver powerful performances that elevate the material. Their talent and on-screen chemistry help to keep the audience engaged, even when the story falls short. Bening and Foster’s dedication to their roles highlights their exceptional acting abilities and serves as a reminder of their status as seasoned professionals in the industry. Despite the script’s limitations, their performances make “Nyad” worth watching for fans of the actresses.

Nyad,” the biographical film chronicling marathon swimmer Diana Nyad’s quest to swim from Cuba to Florida, appears to be tailor-made Oscar bait. Directed by acclaimed documentarians Jimmy Chen and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, known for their work on documentaries like Free Solo and The Rescue, the film marks their foray into narrative filmmaking. With revered actresses Annette Bening and Jodie Foster leading the cast, the film boasts impressive star power. However, despite its prestigious pedigree, Nyad is ultimately let down by its awkward and uninspired script.

Nyad incorporates extensive archival footage from Diana Nyad’s initial swim attempt at age 28, as well as real coverage of her subsequent endeavors. This heavy reliance on real-life material begs the question of whether the story might have been better suited to a documentary format.

The film primarily follows an older Nyad, portrayed by Annette Bening, who, at 60 years old, decides to embark on the challenging swim once more. She enlists the help of her best friend Bonnie, played by Jodie Foster, to assist with her training. Together, they assemble a team that includes navigator John Bartlett, portrayed with a rugged charm by Rhys Ifans, as well as scientist Angel Yanagihara and shark expert Luke Tipple, played by Jeena Yi and Luke Cosgrove, respectively.

In the role of Nyad, Annette Bening delivers a performance that is both complex and compelling. Nyad is portrayed as a determined and sometimes prickly individual, whose relentless pursuit of her goals often leads to moments of self-absorption. Bening’s portrayal is raw and authentic, capturing both Nyad’s uncompromising personality and the physical challenges she faces during her training and swims. Bening’s dedication to the role is evident, as she spent a year training in the pool before filming began. She insisted on performing the majority of the swimming scenes herself, adding a sense of realism and urgency to the film with her waterlogged appearance and sunburnt features.

Jodie Foster’s portrayal of Bonnie, Nyad’s devoted friend, is the standout performance in the film. Foster brings a vibrant energy and warmth to the character, portraying Bonnie as a steadfast and loving presence in Nyad’s life. Despite the challenges and pressures they face, Bonnie remains level-headed and supportive, providing a sense of stability and comfort to Nyad. Foster’s performance is captivating, showcasing her versatility as an actress and her ability to embody the complexities of friendship with authenticity and depth.

The two women also share an effortless chemistry that breathes vitality into their onscreen bond and wholeheartedly sells their decades-long connection. Where Bening’s Diana is prickly and difficult, Foster’s Bonnie is steadfast and loyal — but every slightest turn of their head or blink of their eyes carries their deep affection for each other in it.

Still, Julia Cox’s script is waterlogged from the sheer amount of things it tries to tackle, from the central friendship to Nyad’s five attempts at the swim to Nyad’s history with sexual assault. The screenplay is based on Nyad’s own memoir, Find a Way, and Cox seemingly tried to overstuff the film with too many nitty-gritty details.

Nyad’s story, particularly her bond with Bonnie and the rest of their team, especially John, is an inspiring one. And kudos to Cox and the entire team for never shying away from the rougher aspects of Diana’s personality for the sake of “likability.” But Nyad simply tries to do too much. Each attempt at the swim should play like a thriller, the stakes of the moment a breathless sequence, but this is undercut by the pacing challenges in other areas. It is quite the tale of heroism and courage in the face of adversity, as well as the importance of teamwork and never giving up. But that is all diluted with so many things at play.

Bening and Foster are a joy to watch and will unquestionably be part of the Oscar conversation, but despite their best efforts, they can’t quite keep Nyad afloat.

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