ADRIFT (2018) is a romance/adventure based on the true story of a young couple’s unfortunate run-in with a massive hurricane in the Pacific Ocean which leaves them stranded in the open sea.
But the emphasis here is clearly on romance. In fact, the story told in this movie really isn’t much of an adventure.
It’s 1983 and 24 year-old free spirit Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) is living the dream on the beaches of Tahiti, having left her troubled family life behind in California. When she meets kindred spirit Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) the two hit it off immediately, and suddenly a full romance blooms between them. Tami feels that Richard, although he’s several years older than her, might be the “one.” Richard feels the same way and when he and Tami agree to help out a pair of Richard’s friends by sailing their boat back to California for them, Richard asks Tami to marry him, and she of course says yes.
It appears as if they will have the perfect life together, until that is, their voyage is interrupted by a deadly hurricane which severely damages their boat, sending it adrift into the seemingly endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean.
The first thing that didn’t work for me with this movie was its storytelling style. It opens with the boat being slammed by the hurricane. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it makes for a compelling first sequence, but then the story jumps back in time to explain how Tami and Richard first met. And while the story does move back and forth between their initial romance and their plight on their damaged vessel, the actual event where they face the hurricane isn’t shown again until the very end of the movie.
I’m simply not a fan of this method of storytelling. I always feel a bit cheated. I mean, you get an intense sequence right off the bat, but then the story moves backwards in time in order to give you the background story. To me, if you’re going to start the story here, it should continue to move forward. You’d have a much more exciting film if the entire movie took place after the hurricane. Or simply unveil the romance first and tell the story in chronological order so the sense of dread can be allowed to build. Here there is no build up, because the story jumps back and forth, and the pacing is all over the place, with the speed of choice being most often slow.
I do understand why the story was presented this way, as it helps frame the specific “reveal” which the filmmakers try to set up, but careful viewers can figure this “reveal” out by the very first scene of the film. Still, even though I understand it, I’m not a fan of this flashback style, as it detracts from the story. It also sets up false excitement at the outset. Wow! What an opening! The storm happens right away!— oh wait, this isn’t really happening yet— we have to go back first and return to this moment later.
As such, I wasn’t all that impressed by the screenplay by Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, and David Branson Smith, based on the book by Tami Ashcraft.
Nor did I particularly enjoy the direction by Baltasar Kormakur. The best scenes are the ones in Tahiti. The island photography is beautiful and captures the essence of the gorgeous beaches, making it the perfect setting for a love story. As a love story, ADRIFT works fine, as Tami and Richard are two free spirits who seem to be made for each other.
But the adventure scenes in this one don’t work so well. The film never gets all that intense, and worst of all, the hurricane sequence just isn’t all that riveting. It doesn’t come until very late in the film, and most of it is shot in close-ups on the boat, which could be effective if these close quarters scenes captured the emotional impact of the storm on the characters, but they don’t. The centerpiece of the hurricane sequence in terms of mother nature is the massive wave which overturns the yacht, but this wave really isn’t all that cinematic as it’s over all too quickly.
The best part of ADRIFT is Shailene Woodley’s performance as Tami Oldham. She gets the bulk of the screen time and she is the driving force behind this story of survival. She also captures Tami’s love of life and adventure, but even so, at the end of the day it’s not enough to lift this movie above its standard script and direction.
Woodley has previously starred in the DIVERGENT series, and she was also in THE DESCENDANTS (2011) with George Clooney. She’s really good here in ADRIFT and hopefully we’ll continue to see her in future lead roles.
Sam Claflin, who was very good in THEIR FINEST (2016), is fine here as Richard. He makes less of an impact than Woodley since Richard is injured for most of the movie, and the fight for survival lies mostly in Tami’s hands. But he makes Richard a likable enough man so that you want him and Tami to be together. Claflin has also appeared in the HUNGER GAMES movies.
There really aren’t many other characters in ADRIFT, so the job of carrying the film lies squarely on Woodley’s and Claflin’s shoulders. While they’re up to the task, there really isn’t much to hold up.
ADRIFT works mostly as a love story, and while it’s also being marketed as an adventure tale, that’s something of a misnomer since there’s not much here in terms of intensity or excitement.
If love stories are your thing, you may find ADRIFT somewhat satisfying.
But if you’re looking for adventure, you’re on the wrong boat, as even though this one clocks in at a brief 96 minutes, chances are you’ll find yourself with your mind adrift.