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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.

About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.


  • Thanks DG! I’m not into sports either but those two actors together and that story sounds like a winner .

  • Yeay! The link finally worked! Like Diana, I was NOT going to be denied my success in reaching and reading this piece! Success rewarded with a great read, despite the tides working against me (you’re going to let that one pass too)! Thanks DG for another great review & thanks MDK for fixing whatever the glitch was on the link! Yeay!!

  • I can’t believe that you are going to make me watch a sports movie, DG ;p

  • Should I stop treading water and dive back into a Netflix subscription? I could give it a few laps until the feeling of drowning in fees pulls me under. Marco … Polo!

  • Great review! Thanks for the rec.

  • I saw this movie! It’s fantastic. Annette Bening and Jodie Foster make this movie a must to watch. Thanks for this great article, DG you nailed it. I highly recommend seeing this movie.

  • I thought this movie was excellent! Bening and Foster are so good.

  • Thanks for highlighting Nyad. It’s a wonderful film, not just about persevering, but also about friendship. I saw it on the “big” screen” at TIFF(Toronto International Film Festival.) The acting is superb.

  • As a knitter playing the Jodie Foster role, my husband, a marathon swimmer, and I watched this movie the first night it came out on Netflix. Both of us thoroughly enjoyed it, although my husband kept tut-tuttting any time Hollywood took any allowances! The movie illuminates the team effort involved behind the swimmer as well as the confidence and training the swimmer needs to reach the goal – so much of it is mental – it was great to watch.

    My husband had shoulder surgery 9 months before his English Channel swim. A friend asked if he was still going to swim it (you have to make boat reservations a year in advance). I said “No” at the same time he said “Yes.” He made it, in 17 hours 23 minutes. It’s that irrational desire to make it across – at one point my husband said, “I hate myself,” – that drives them on. We were all behind him – me feeding him every thirty minutes, his best friend and coach helping him swim and keep going, my daughter and mother in law cheering him on, along with my best friend providing food for the crew. I could go on and on, but watch the movie, admire the crew, and know that it’s a big effort behind every swim and that the team is cheering him/her on with every stroke.

    • Wow… the commitment.

  • I don’t know which is more interesting – DG’s review or Katherine Everett’s story, but “English Channel” always gets me. And the one time I saw Nyad interviewed in person, her personality came across as absolutely “sunny.” Apparently not! Thanks for this review!

  • Feel the same.
    This infatuation with sports.
    Movie is on my list.

  • DJ, you write the best reviews. Actually, all your MDK articles are great; I really look forward to them! And I look forward to watching Nyad now, too. Thank you!

  • I absolutely cherish your writing, DG.

  • Thanks for the strong review (let it pass!).

  • Haven’t seen the movie yet. I’m trying to decide if it’s a movie that I want to see, Annette Bening and Jodie Foster, not with standing .

  • Most sports movies are incapsulated in the trailer so you don’t have to watch them.

  • This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time — and I only like sports movies
    a smidgeon more watching sports itself … expect for the Olympics, which can’t be counted as just sports, but I digress. I do wonder though if Nyad was as ornery in real life as depicted in the move, but if not, it surely made me keep watching and rooting for her when she finely made it.

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