An old-school true life sports drama with all the highs and lows of Hollywood storytelling built right into it, “Nyad” covers all the bases one wants considered in an athlete biopic: team building, triumph over adversity, triumph over one’s self.
The bonus here is Jodie Foster, who plays a supporting role and elevates the film a level or two.
Annette Bening is Diana Nyad, the marathon swimmer who dreamed of swimming across the channel that separates Cuba and Key West. Foster plays Bonnie Stoll, her best friend, who pushes Nyad to be her best and is likely to once again find herself in the Oscar race for her work in the role.
Nyad originally planned to swim from Key West to Cuba in 1978 when she was 28 years old, but couldn’t finish the trek due to circumstances outside of her control. She picked up more than 30 years later at age 60, attempting to swim from Cuba to Key West, a 110-mile stretch of sea, which aside from the physical toll on one’s body also involves swimming amongst sharks, jellyfish and against all manner of unpredictable currents.
She assembles a team, including Stoll as her manager/coach and John Bartlett (Rhys Ifans) as her sea captain, chartering the way. There are also team members assigned to keep her swimming in a straight line and avoiding dangerous sea creatures at night. It takes a village.
There are several failed attempts along the way, but Nyad keeps trying, determined to fulfill what she believes is her destiny, as her father told her growing up that her name translated to “water nymph.”
“Free Solo” Oscar winners Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin direct “Nyad” from a script by Julia Cox, based on Nyad’s own book “Find a Way.” If the script is fairly straightforward, with flashbacks to Nyad’s childhood trauma along the way, the performances keep pushing it forward, especially Bening and Foster, two pros who make a hell of an on-screen pair. They’re worth cheering every bit as much as the story they’re telling.