Sat. Sep 23rd, 2023

The biopic “Nyad” also shows the visceral extremes of what it takes to push your body to its limit to achieve greatness. At 28, marathon swimmer Diana Nyad (Annette Bening, never better) attempted to swim from Cuba to Key West in Florida. It was going to be her last swim. When miscalculations and bad weather ended the dream early, she retired, working as a sportscaster for 30 years. After her best friend and one-time girlfriend, Bonnie (Jodie Foster, terrific), throws her a surprise 60th birthday party, Nyad realizes she’s not done yet. Over the four of several years, Diana sets out to finish what she started. 

Directed by documentarians Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (“Free Solo,” “The Rescue”), “Nyad” is a portrait of the determination and grit—and self-absorption—possessed by athletes who push themselves to their limits. Along with Bonnie as her trainer, Nyad must work closely with a navigator, John Bartlett (Rhys Ifans), shark and jellyfish specialists, and more to finally achieve her grueling dream. 

Bening and Foster have the easy chemistry of women who “dated for a second, two hundred years ago.” Foster, in particular, brings a wonderful complexity to Bonnie, who loves Nyad dearly but has had to put up with her more difficult personality traits for decades, including her narcissism, aversion to mediocrity, and general lack of chill. But there is such deep love between these women, and it’s a real treat to see this kind of profound friendship between two women celebrated so richly.

As Nyad—whose name, she reminds everyone, means “water nymph”—Bening transforms her body into that of a world-class athlete and balances Nyad’s abrasiveness and offbeat sense of humor. The film also doesn’t shy away from showing this sport’s brutality; her face puffs up like a balloon after a jellyfish attack, and her body often looks broken and twisted from the intensity of the waves. Vasarhelyi and Chin film her many swims, sometimes like a battle against the elements, at others like a trippy fantasy, while their underwater footage shows the beauty and elegance of Nyad’s technique. 

By Dave Jenks

Dave Jenks is an American novelist and Veteran of the United States Marine Corps. Between those careers, he’s worked as a deckhand, commercial fisherman, divemaster, taxi driver, construction manager, and over the road truck driver, among many other things. He now lives on a sea island, in the South Carolina Lowcountry, with his wife and youngest daughter. They also have three grown children, five grand children, three dogs and a whole flock of parakeets. Stinnett grew up in Melbourne, Florida and has also lived in the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and Cozumel, Mexico. His next dream is to one day visit and dive Cuba.