Adrift is an incredible true story of survival at sea. The problem with the film adaptation is that it’s too much romance and not enough survival. From Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (Contraband, 2 Guns), Adrift continuously cuts away from the dire situation to focus on the sappy romance. I’ll admit that some audiences may embrace this tact, but I found it annoying. The backstory needed to be told, but would have been better served up front. This way the true grit of the plot could take hold without distraction.
The film opens in 1983 Tahiti, Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) is a free-spirit traveling the world. The San Diego native works odd jobs to fund her adventures. Tami meets Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), an introverted sailor who built his boat. The pair become smitten with each other, embarking on a whirlwind romance. Richard is offered a lucrative job, sail a luxury yacht across the Pacific to California. Tami decides to join him on the trip. What starts as a dream becomes a nightmare. They run into a hurricane that severely damages the boat. Tami must use every fiber of her being to keep them both alive.
Kormakur does an excellent job with the scenes at sea. You believe the predicament. The storm and its aftermath are riveting. But just when the teeth of desperation sinks its fangs, Adrift takes us back to the lovefest in Tahiti. Now there’s a reason for this, as the film does have a big reveal. The issue is that the romance aspect is way overblown. Yes, this couple is madly in love, that’s understood from the first five minutes. I couldn’t care less about their sandy beach snuggling. Show me how they tackled hunger, dehydration, etc. These moments are entirely too fleeting.
Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin work as a couple. They are young and beautiful in paradise. Adrift wants to hammer in the star-crossed lovers angle. We get it. What happened to them was beyond tragic. Adrift needed to explore the tragedy more. I constantly compared this film to Robert Redford’s brilliant, All is Lost. That story of survival at sea had scant dialogue. The entire plot centered on the actions taken, the sheer human will to live. Adrift waters down the most thrilling aspect of this story. You can’t show me a couple sunburnt and starving, then cut to them dancing at a club. It takes you out of the moment and that’s a deal killer.
After the film, I discussed it with a female colleague. She loved the romance, likened the film to a Nicholas Sparks novel at sea. I have little patience for young adult romance unless it’s really well executed. I don’t want to see A Walk to Remember on the ocean. Adrift doesn’t lay it on that thick, but it’s an apt description. I was sold on a survival story and I expected that to be the majority of the plot.
From STX Films, Adrift works as a date movie. It’s a love story wrapped around survival at sea. I would have preferred the other way. A few tears were shed by my colleague. My tear ducts were as dry as the characters sunburnt lips. Watch Titanic for a tragic sea romance. Give me the gravitas of survival here.