If you were in your tweens, teens, or 20s during the early 2010s, you probably remember the young adult dystopian movie boom. Book-to-film adaptions like The Maze Runner, The Fifth Wave, and The Giver were all hitting the big screen within the same few years, and while a select few of them were positively received, like The Hunger Games, many other missed the mark (I’m looking at you, Divergent).
Adrift, released in 2018, is far from a teen dystopian adventure. There is no “chosen one,” there are no only weirdly absent parents, and there is no love triangle. But there is Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin – two stars whose careers gained more attention after they appeared in a couple of the aforementioned mega teen franchises.
Nothing spotlights her nuanced and authentic approach to acting quite as well as Adrift.
Claflin was introduced as Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, a film that received near-universal praise for its smart themes, sleek direction, and compelling cast. Woodley wasn’t so lucky and got stuck with Tris in Divergent — a franchise that, while performing decently at the box office, continually went downhill in quality, so much so that its final movie was canceled. If you had only seen Woodley in the failing Divergent series, it would be easy to assume she just wasn’t that great of an actor. But while she definitely redeemed herself in the HBO drama Big Little Lies, nothing spotlights her nuanced and authentic approach to acting quite as well as Adrift. And for those of us that still look back fondly on the YA dystopian craze, the pairing of Claflin and Woodley feels like the perfect match from a simpler era. Now that Adrift‘s on Netflix, you have no excuse not to indulge in this survival drama, which sticks them together in the wanderlust of the ’80s.
Adrift tells the story of real-life sailors Tami Oldham Ashcraft (Woodley) and her fiancé Richard Sharp (Claflin), who plan to sail a yacht from Tahiti to San Diego. But after getting caught in the path of Hurricane Raymond — which leaves Richard with his ribs broken and shin shattered — it’s up to Tami to lead their wrecked boat to safety.
The film’s narrative might sound ordinary. But while the traditional ocean disaster story has been told before, Adrift relays it in a way that keeps its overarching story fresh. Viewers are brought to the site of the wreck right away, and through a series of flashbacks, the film slowly unveils the events that led up to the yacht’s demise. These glimpses into the past show Tami arriving on the island, falling for Richard, and making plans to sail the ocean with him. Their romance feels natural and faintly reminiscent of the wondrous first loves in YA narratives, despite its subjects being several years older. And somehow it’s even more engrossing knowing that their wistful dreams of sailing away will ultimately end in the tragic wreck they’re now forced to work through.
Adrift is beautifully shot, with much of the film being taking place out on the turquoise ocean.
As great as the pair’s chemistry is, there’s something else that helps the film stay afloat: the cinematography. Adrift is beautifully shot, with much of the film taking place out on the choppy turquoise ocean. Even when the romantic drama transports viewers somewhere else, like inside the boat or somewhere on the island, the warm colors and detailed camera work gives the movie an intimate feel.
Topping it all off is the twist ending, which will have you realizing all the more how much Woodley truly carried the film. She cycles through a full range of emotions as someone who is dealing with absolute hell on the water — and it will leave you admiring the real Tami who pushed through the horrors of the sea and deservingly gets a shout-out in the credits.
Adrift might not be the world’s most groundbreaking survival story, but it is an engaging one. And with stunning visuals, a clever twist ending, and most of all — Woodley’s believable performance — it makes for the perfect end-of-summer watch.
Adrift is now streaming on Netflix.