Press materials for Adrift describe the film as “the inspiring true story of two free spirits whose chance encounter leads them first to love, and then to the adventure of a lifetime.” This is true, but the description makes the film sound like the adventure is a positive experience. Instead, this film is about a romantic sailing trip gone wrong as the two struggle to stay alive during and after encountering a hurricane aboard a luxury sailing boat.
Adrift actually begins in the middle of the story with Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) bobbing back and forth inside a large sailboat full of water and debris. She is wearing a raincoat but the weather outside is sunny and calm. How long has she been knocked out? As she awakes and gets her bearings, Tami suddenly panics and calls out for someone named Richard. Struggling to make it to the top of the boat, Tami can’t find Richard anywhere and fears the worst.
The film then flashbacks five months earlier and we see Tami arriving in Fiji going through customs. She has no solid reason to be there nor does she know how long she’ll stay. She’s a free spirit taking a new job at a harbor. On her first day on the job she meets this Richard we’ve been hearing her call out. Richard (Sam Claflin) is an older sailor from England who apparently sails because he can. The two hit it off right away.
Adrift’s storyline goes back and forth with Tami relentlessly trying to find Richard out in the water and the events that led up to this mess. Eventually, it is revealed that not long into their romance, Richard asks Tami if she would sail around the world with him. While toying with the idea, Tami and Richard run into an older couple who are friends of Richard. Peter and Christine (Jeffrey Thomas and Elizabeth Hawthorne) admit that Christine’s father has run ill and the two need fly out to see him as he could pass away at any time. They ask Richard if he could sail their luxury sailboat back to San Diego for them for a fee that he can’t pass up. The trip would take about a month. Of course, he doesn’t want to take the trip alone and Tami reluctantly obliges to go with him.
After a few other flashbacks, Tami eventually finds Richard floating helplessly to the sailboat’s dingy. He is unconscious (or close to it) and hurt. She is able to drag him back to what is left of the sailboat and the two plot on how they are going to make it back to land safely.
Just like the waves of the ocean, this story tosses the viewer back and forth with flashbacks and moments of hope followed by moments of hopelessness. The pair are out in the middle of nowhere with no working radio and no one knows that they are there. Still, this is based on a true story (the book Red Sky in Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss and Survival at Sea by Tami Oldham Ashcraft and Susea McGearhart) so that someone told, so there is hope.
Directed by Baltasar Kormákur Samper (Everest), has a “you are there” quality to it. It has been reported that the cast and crew spent two hours out on the ocean each during filming for five weeks. Many of the crew got seasick too. The two leads are both impressive in their own rite. Woodley believably portrays Tami as an adventurous go-getter who seemingly isn’t afraid of anything. Richard comments that she’s a strong as a “bloke” to which she replies that he’s unlike any man she’s ever met, sensitive like a woman. While on board the ship, the two work together just as well and you’d never know that the two actors don’t sail on a regular basis in real life.
Despite its ideological premise, will have you re-thinking that romantic notion of sailing away anytime soon unless your idea of fun is being stranded under the not sun with little water or food. This is an adventure to be sure and ends up being one incredible story with an unexpected twist at the end.
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.