Knit to This
Knit to This: Nyad
OK, so I’m on record as being a little resistant to sports movies and now I’ll tell you why.
Rocky and The Bad News Bears notwithstanding, they’re almost always about winning, which just could not interest me less. We’re brought up learning “winning isn’t everything” every danged day of our childhoods … but then we turn around and practically every danged movie is about exactly that. So is winning everything? The protagonist of any sports movie is either going to win or they are going to lose—and a lot of the suspense is gone when the material is based on a true story.
And all of that is not not true when it comes to Nyad, now streaming on Netflix. But Diana Nyad’s multiple attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida do put an interesting spin on a pretty traditional sports narrative; there’s a lot of not quite before there’s very much triumph. And it’s just flat-out exhausting to watch Annette Bening (as Nyad) swim halfway to Key West about fifty times—I can’t think of another recent movie during which I held my breath quite so much.
It’s another in a long line of biopics that are buoyed (you are going to let that pass) by the performances. The casting keeps the rest of the movie’s fairly traditional head above water (you are also going to let that pass).
The movie goes to great pains to show that Nyad herself was as ornery and mercurial as the Straits of Florida that denied her so many times. It was a terrific impulse, I think, for Bening to go ahead and play her that way; she acts her goggles off trying to keep you from liking Nyad too much (I would have thought it impossible; is anyone on earth more likable than Annette Bening?).
Jodie Foster (as Nyad’s trainer and one-time inamorata) is just as good. The two actors are absolutely perfectly cast, which is a relief because long stretches of the movie are made up of not much more than the camera trained on one or the other of them either swimming or clicking a stopwatch … and thanks to 100% star power, it’s a pleasure to do.
The movie unfolds as straightforwardly as you might imagine, with a few difficult flashbacks to Nyad’s childhood and a couple of nervy hallucinatory swimming sequences. Thanks to the sheer force of will Bening-as-Nyad puts forth, by the time Nyad actually fulfills her Cuba-to-Florida quest and wobbles onto the beach, you get the feeling that the Straits of Florida just gave up trying to deny her. Winning may not be everything, but Diana Nyad wasn’t not going to do it.
It’s on Netflix, y’all.