Nyad (2023)

Yeah, that's gonna be a nyad from me, dawg

Every year we get one or two or more biopics, increasingly relegated to streaming, that are shamelessly engineered and promoted to get acting Oscar nominations. Nyad is one of this year’s specimens. It gracelessly straddles the line between unpleasantly bad biopic and a hilarious unintentional self-parody of the genre (one of the movie’s first lines is Jodie Foster saying “I forgot the poop bags”). Every character is exactly what you would expect them to be from the very first frame in which we meet them, with not a single iota of surprise except in a certain unhinged zeal in the execution. It’s trying to be Walk the Line but already halfway to Walk Hard.

The story is deeply repetitive. Everything after about the 45 minute mark is just Diana Nyad (Annette Bening) with the help of her trainer (Jodie Foster) attempting the same swimming feat literally four times in arduous detail. The first three times, she fails and feels sad. The fourth time she succeeds and fist pumps.

If the execution itself wasn’t bad enough, Nyad is weighed down by significant para-film baggage. The first problem is the inexplicable Oscar nominations: Jodie Foster and Annette Bening are barely acting in this, yet both got nominated. Bening at least has to embody a neurotic obsessive weirdo, but she takes the path of least resistance and least imagination to the character. Foster is just being Jodie Foster, which is not a problem for a movie like this, but hardly worthy of a freaking Oscar. Bening’s Best Actress nod is especially frustrating when so many remarkable turns (Cailee Spaeny, Greta Lee, any others I forgot?) were spurned.

The second and bigger problem is that no major swimming organization recognizes the feat depicted in Nyad as factual. That’s right, this deeply inspirational story is in fact very likely made up, or at least exaggerated. I love plenty of fabricated biopics; in fact, most of my favorites (Amadeus, Social Network, Ed Wood) are more fiction than truth. The difference is that Nyad rubs our faces in just how inspiring this very truthful story is, integrating clips of the real Diana Nyad giving media appearances into the opening and closing, and so its falsehood is kinda movie-crushing.

I save the film from bottom marks for two reasons. The first is, sure, if you’re going to spend 115 minutes with two actresses bantering with each other, barely veiling sexual chemistry (that you know is intentional because it’s lampshaded three times), you could do a lot worse than Bening and Foster. The second is that the movie puts forth some honest-to-God effort in the swimming footage, making it feel like Bening is really out in the deep, vast sea.

Alas, Nyad is exactly the eye-roll-inducing inspiration porn you would expect it to be when you read the logline, just as undeserving of those nominations as you would fear. But, hey, if you take a shot every time Diana Nyad explains that her last name is a homophone for a Greek water spirit, you at least won’t have to remember sitting through it!

Is It Good?

Not Good (2/8)

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3 replies on “Nyad (2023)”

So you’re saying stick with Dangerous When Wet.

I might see still this as something of a Foster fan, plus Oscar completionism, plus it would give me an excuse to watch Free Solo. But I can’t say anything I’ve heard makes it a high priority.

Currently imagining 60-something Bening and Foster in this poster.

It’s the kind of movie I could see getting a multi-rating bump if you especially enjoy hanging out with this specific cast. I can’t imagine me giving a version of this with Tom Hanks this rating, e.g.

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