Bening & Foster keep “Nyad” from sinking

Nyad (Annette Bening, Jodie Foster, Rhys Ifans) – Diana Nyad was certainly the most celebrated marathon swimmer of the 20th century.  She wasn’t an Olympian. She was an exceptional athlete. She came to prominence when she swam around Manhattan. She followed that up with other massively long swims. To many, she was a symbol of feminism and sports excellence in a world dominated by men. To some, she was a serial exaggerator with a history of overstating milestones. Ultimately, she turned herself into the leading participant in a sport that really didn’t exist and created a career as a motivational speaker, author, and sports commentator (for ABC’s Wide World of Sports).

In Nyad, the swimmer is depicted by the incredible Annette Bening as driven, cold, self-possessed, obsessed, selfish, and narcissistic. Given the fact that Ms. Nyad was a co-writer of the movie, she apparently gained a measured of self-awareness late in life. The film exclusively deals with Nyad’s decision in her early 60s to attempt the swim from Cuba to Key West that she couldn’t finish was she was younger. It was an unimaginable proposition; not only to make the 103-mile swim but to do it at that age.

Some would call it a late-life crisis. No longer well known and without much of a life, Nyad hit the gym, pushing herself to the physical edge. Supported by her longtime devoted friend, Bonnie Stoll, she willed herself to make the swim; not once but four times before she made it successfully. Along the way, she alienates almost everyone close to her and those who helped her. That is really the soul of the film.

Her relationship with Stoll, played masterfully and sympathetically by Jodie Foster, is the heart of the film. But it is also about the people recruited along the way to support her. In the end, 40 people witnessed her feat.

Both Bening and Foster received Oscar nominations and rightfully so. Both were willing to appear without make-up, showing wrinkles and cellulite. For actresses who have been known to play plucky, challenging, and glamorous parts (Bening in The American President, American Beauty, and The Kids are All Right or Foster in Maverick, The Silence of the Lambs and Nell), they were willing to take on a tremendous challenge.

Why wasn’t the movie nominated for anything else? First, it’s a grueling watch. Too much time in the water. Too much sunburn. Too much dead space. It went straight to streaming on Netflix because it was determined not to have much box office appeal. Perhaps part of it is the whitewashing of Nyad’s controversies. For example, the audience is never told that the swim was not certified, even as recently as 2022 and 2023.

But none of that detracts from the performances of these exceptional actresses. With these nominations, viewership of the film should soar.

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