Tami (Woodley) is travelling the world and washes up in Tahiti where she meets handsome sailor Richard (Clafin). Romance blossoms and they plan to sail the world together but when they are offered to take an elderly couple’s yacht back to San Diego for ten grand the offer is too juicy to turn down. However, disaster strikes when the couple is swallowed up by a storm, pushing them way off course, and Tami has to keep the boat afloat and her mind in shape as the weeks drift by…
You can see the meeting: “'All Is Lost' was great and all but you know what it was missing?” JC Chandor’s wonderful 2013 survivalist story had an aging Robert Redford struggle to keep his yacht above the surface. That’s it. For ninety minutes there was no dialogue, no backstory, no nothing: pure unadulterated survival. 'Adrift', adapted from Tami Ashcraft’s novel, in turn based on her true story, attempts to rectify the ‘mistakes’ of that tense and taut affair: beautiful stars, lots of dialogue, and a romance backstory that dominates the running time. This is the mainstream, accessible version of 'All Is Lost'. This is Nothing Is Lost If You’re In Love.
I didn’t have a stopwatch with me but I’d wager the backstory – Tami meeting Richard, falling in love, frolicking under waterfealls, having dinner, dancing, lying on beaches, whispering sweet nothings – takes up as much running time as the survivalist story, if not more, and the survivalist story is why we’re here, right? The flashbacks are very distracting, dropped into the middle of the action just as it’s heating up, and the constant cutting back and forth doesn’t allow either timeline to emotionally involve. With Woodley rarely alone on screen the exploration of isolation that seems to be a hot topic of late ('Approaching The Unknown', 'Tracks', 'The Mercy', 'Gravity' and Kormakur’s own 'The Deep') doesn’t develop.
Whereas Chandor trusted exclusively in the visuals to tell the story, director Baltasar Kormakur, working from an adaptation by twins Jordan and Aaron Kendell ('Moana') and David Branson Smith ('Ingrid Goes West'), can’t help but have Woodley talk to herself, informing the audience what they know already: that the lifeboat is drifting, that the drinking water is running low, the food is running out, etc. The movie’s big moments – like the sudden appearance of the approaching trawler (another lift from 'All Is Lost') – come and go all too soon.
There are positives. Woodley (who also produces) convinces as one who begins to slowly lose her mind, brought on by strict rationing, fear and head injury. The opening sequence is wonderful, pulling one into the mix immediately with Baltazar’s camera following the unconscious Woodley to consciousness, up through the bowels of the yacht, onto the yacht where she surveys the carnage.
But it’s largely an unengaging and dull affair.