'Nyad' - Swimming to the Oscars

"Nyad" via IMDb.

The March 2024 Oscar ceremony is just a couple of days away. LGBTQ representation among this year’s nominations ranks among the highest ever.

Examples include out actor Colman Domingo’s portrayal of gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin in “Rustin,” Sterling K. Brown as newly out Cliff in “American Fiction,” out actor Lily Gladstone in “Killers of the Flower Moon,” as well as the queer-oriented Best Picture nominee “Anatomy Of A Fall.”

Let’s not forget “Nyad” (Netflix), Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin’s biopic about world champion lesbian marathon swimmer Diana Nyad, starring Annette Bening in the lead role for which she earned a nomination for Actress in a Lead Role. Starring alongside Bening is out actress Jodie Foster, nominated for Actress in a Supporting Role as Nyad’s longtime friend, coach, and handler Bonnie Stoll.

Essentially the story of Nyad’s five attempts to swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida, “Nyad” is a portrait of obsession, determination, and triumph. Eventually achieving her dream at the age of 64 in September 2023, we watch as Nyad was willing to sacrifice everything, including personal relationships to achieve her lofty and seemingly impossible goal.

Beginning shortly before Diana’s (Bening) 60th birthday, 30 years after her retirement from swimming, we see how the words of the late lesbian poet Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day,” (the one that ends “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?”) becomes part of the inspiration for Nyad’s quest. A reluctant Bonnie (Foster) joins her on the odyssey as they enlist navigator John (Rhys Ifans), trainer Luke (Luke Cosgrove), boat captain Dee (Karly Rothenberg), and others.

Interwoven throughout the film are flashbacks to Nyad’s troubled youth, including a complicated relationship with her father Aris (Johnny Solo), as well as her coach Jack (Eric T. Miller), by whom she was sexually assaulted. Meant to illustrate how Nyad became the super-driven athlete that she was, they also highlight her development as a socially awkward person.

More than anything else, the “best friends” relationship between Diana and Bonnie (described by Diana: “we dated for like a second 200 years ago”) is easily as central to the story as the swimming. The love these two women feel for each other is visceral and feels thoroughly genuine. This is a credit to both Bening and Foster who earned their respective nominations.

Ultimately, “Nyad” is about 20 minutes too long. The oceanic swimming sequences, intended to demonstrate what Nyad put herself (and those closest to her) through, are overwhelming, leaving us gasping for air. Nevertheless, “Nyad” is a must-see, simply for the experience of seeing these two actresses at the top of their game. 

Rating: B+


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