Last night I caught a screening of Baltasar Kormakur‘s Adrift, a not-great, not-bad, survival-at-sea drama that’s based on an actual early ’80s saga, and more particularly “Red Sky at Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea” by Tami Oldham Ashcraft and Susea McGearhart. It’s not a time-waster or a throwaway, but I didn’t respect it in the end. And neither will you.
You can tell right away that Adrift wants to deliver coo-coo romantic vibes for its target audience (i.e., younger women, couples). Loving currents first and surviving nature’s wrath second. The sailor-lovers are played by Shailene Woodley (as Oldham) and the good-looking Sam Claflin (as her bearded boyfriend and sailing partner Richard Sharp). The filmmakers wanted to milk the bejeesus out of that togetherness, that “I love you more than life itself” stuff. And that they did.
This strategic determination, crafted by screenwriters Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell and David Branson Smith and obviously agreed to by Kormakur, results in a significant third-act revelation or confession that reveals their lying, cheating hearts.
Adrift creators to audience: “We wanted to give you a film about a young, loving, struggling-to-survive couple, and we did that for the most part so too effing bad if we flim-flammed you. Get over it. Life is full of fake-outs and people dealing from the bottom of the deck. We didn’t do anything that bad. Have some more popcorn.”
At the very least Adrift reminds you how much better All Is Lost was, is and always will be. All hail J.C. Chandor and Robert Redford for delivering a stone classic of this realm. Anyone who sees All Is Lost and goes “yeah, not bad, decent” needs to get his/her pipes cleaned. It’s made of landmark, classic, world-class stuff, and is most definitely a metaphor for the struggle and the loneliness and sometimes the feelings of futility that comes with late-period aging (which I got from the experience of my parents when they hit their 80s).
Side Issue: In his Variety review, Owen Gleiberman writes glowingly about Woodley. “It’s tempting to call Shailene Woodley a ‘sensual’ actress, but let’s be clear about what that means,” he begins. “Woodley, like Debra Winger, has the gift of making sensuality dramatic; there’s a beautiful severity to her features that allows you to feel the things she’s showing you. That’s a talent, but it’s also an instinct — what a genuine movie star has.”
What I’m about to say may sound a bit harsh, but I want to be honest. I want to say what I genuinely feel but with a touch of delicacy. The word “sensual” has always been tethered, at least to some extent, to “sexually attractive.” As in (and please excuse the implications of crudity and lack of refinement) “I’d like to fuck her.” Or, as that borough-accented cafe owner said about Carey Mulligan in Inside Llewyn Davis, “I’d like to fawk hawh.”
Debra Winger had that robust-sensual-fox thing going on, obviously, in her early ‘80s heyday, but Shailene Woolley…well, due respect but not in my humble opinion. Like, at all. Not even in The Descendants. As in “don’t even go there.”
My reasons for saying this (and again, I’m trying to be frank and considerate at the same time) are due to her unnecessarily wide face, her curious Eurasian eyes and a somewhat broad, half-sloping Beagle Boy nose.
My idea of foxy-sensual-alluring are actresses with sublime symmetrical faces and petite noses who are actually foxy-pretty in the conventional sense — the young Grace Kelly, Kathryn Harrold at the time of Modern Romance, the young AND older Michelle Pfeiffer in anything, Elizabeth Olsen, my wife Tatyana, etc.
I’m not saying Shailene Woodley’s features are unattractive or unpleasant or that she’s in any way untalented or lacking in spirit, but c’mon, she just doesn’t have that thing that Gleiberman is referring to. That bee-stung nose, for me, is a total stopper.
A friend disagrees: “Why does she not qualify in that respect just because Shailene has unusual features?” Reply: “For me ‘unusual features’ defines — has always defined — a lack of hotness. Standards change, of course. Around the time of World War I Theda Bara was regarded as the hottest woman on the planet. But Woodley’s ‘sensual’ appeal, due respect, eludes me.” Friend’s reply: “That’s not always true about unusual features. Look at Bette Davis, Ellen Barkin, Marlene Dietrich, Tina Turner. Shailene Woodley has a fire to her.” My reply: “Yes, she has that. But there’s nothing especially unusual about the features of Davis, Dietrich, Barkin and Turner.”