Nyad, A Review



This is the second review of a film shown at this year’s NEWFEST in New York City…


Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin
Screenplay by Julia Cox


Inspired by the marathon swimmer Diana Nyad, Nyad concentrates on her return to distance swimming after a thirty-year hiatus following the failure, at age 28, to be the first person to swim from Havana to Key West—over 100 miles—in open waters with treacherous currents, sharks, and changeable weather. Documentary footage fills in some crucial backstory. Nyad is played by the always estimable Annette Bening in a story that concentrates on her years resuming training. Bening’s Nyad gives us a take-no-prisoners portrayal of a fiercely independent woman who may still harbor hopes of lesbian romance, but is primarily focused on achieving a world swimming first, a dream instilled in her by her demanding father (played by Johnny Solo). The film follows her rigorous training from age 58 to 64. The story’s emotional core is the bond Diana maintains with her longtime friend and coach, Bonnie Stoll, played with gusto by Jodie Foster. She proves a perfect foil for Bening. Also crucial is their companion-boat’s navigator, John Bartlett, an old salt with years of experience plying Gulf waters. Embodied with raffish ease by Rhys Ifans, Bartlett is forced to tell Diana about unfavorable conditions that demand aborting the swim crossing already underway. Flashback scenes to Nyad’s youth suggest the psychological motivation that has made Nyad an angry, implacable opponent of the very seas in which she swims.


Allen Ellenzweig, a longtime contributor to this magazine, is a cultural writer based in New York City.