“Apocalypse Now,” offers up some life advice in the form of one salient quote about crossing lines and the point of no return. To paraphrase. “Never get out of the boat. Absolutely goshdarn right. Unless you’re going all the way.” In the case of “Adrift,” a new film starring Shailene Woodley, it might have been a good idea to never have gotten on the boat in the first place.
Based on the true story of Tami Oldham (Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), two sailors who meet disaster on a journey across the Pacific from Tahiti to San Diego, “Adrift” is an adventure tale in search of dramatic tension.
When we first meet her Oldham is a twenty-four-year old on hiatus from real life. Struck with a case of wanderlust, she is metaphorically adrift, jumping from place to place with the goal of making enough money to get to the next port. When she meets experienced seadog Sharp she finds someone who can provide companionship on her travels.
“I’ve never met anyone like you,“ he says. “You’re like a bloke.“ “I’ve never met anyone like you,” she replies. “You’re like a woman.“ Cue the kisses.
The newly minted couple take a job to sail a luxury yacht across the ocean they immediately set off on their nautical adventure. All is well until they sail into a class four tropical storm that goes all “Poseidon Adventure” on the yacht. During the storm that Sharp is banged up, left with a broken leg and ribs. His survival is in her hands. The couple drift for forty-one days, exhausted, dehydrated, delirious and hallucinating but not dead. ‘If this hadn’t happened,” she says, “I wouldn’t have us to remember. I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”
Flashing them backwards and forwards from their courtship, to the trip and the disaster, “Adrift” is choppier than the waves kicked up by the storm. The broken timeline shatters any kind of forward momentum. Just as a scene starts to build some heat director Baltasar Kormákur jumps around, skipping through time like a flat stone skimming along the water.
In his interpretation of the material director Kormákur seems intent on creating a new genre, the Young Adult Disaster Romance. The film leads up to the storm, an exciting-ish climax in a movie where nothing interesting happens until the final moments. The romance segments have a light feel, brightly coloured, set to bouncy music. They are cut, in sharp contrast, against the stark scenes of survival. Throughout Woodley and Claflin speak to one another in lines seemingly ripped from a Harlequin Romance Jr. “I sailed around the road to find you,” Richard coos. “I’m not letting you go.” “I just want to go everywhere with you,” she replies. How juvenile is it? It takes them 18 days at sea to discover the booze below deck. Any mature disaster artist would have found it in hours.
”Adrift” is meant to be a voyage of self-discovery but is a little more than a trip to the Young Adult section of the library. With little to no insight on the characters and uneven storytelling, for most of the running time “Adrift” is just that… adrift.