Bening and Foster Radiate Dyke Power in “Nyad” (2023). B

In 2013, endurance swimmer Diana Nyad (played by Annette Bening) became the first to swim from Cuba to the US without a shark cage. After 53 hours of non-stop swimming, the 64-year-old American reached Key West, Florida. It was her fifth attempt – her four other tries – one in 1978, two in 2011, and one in 2012 – failed.


“Nyad” is the first narrative feature by Oscar-winning documentary filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, and the transition has its bumpy spots. Diana’s only adversary is herself, her only rival being a younger, overconfident swimmer who makes a fleeting appearance before being dispatched (from the “competition” and the movie) by an encounter with the toxic jellyfish that has plagued Diana on her numerous failed attempts. Diana is stubborn and demanding, but this inner drive is essential to her success, especially as it happens so late – there are many old-age jokes! In any other actress’s hands, she could have been unbearable. However, Bening is such a great actress that you always feel the presence of a more vulnerable Diana beating on the inside.


This inner Diana comes through, especially in her relationship with her coach, Bonnie Stoll (a marvelous Jodi Foster), who worships her and whom she mistreats on numerous occasions. However, this is one of the cinemas’ great lesbian friendships and probably the most potent one ever put forward by a mainstream Hollywood movie. The relationship is strictly platonic (the only sex in the film occurs in a poorly handled flashback sequence). However, you sometimes wonder if something more profound is happening with Stoll/Foster’s character. It’s Foster’s best work in decades, and since Bening spends half of the movie in the water, Foster’s character makes a more lasting impression. Kudos also to Rhys Ifans, who, as the team’s expert meteorologist, blends beautifully with our two ladies, making it, at times, a three-way character study.


Surprisingly, given their spectacular documentary history, the directors don’t do much with Nyad/Bening in the water. We know she’s surrounded by sharks, jellyfish, and dangerous currents, but the suspense isn’t there. The movie comes alive only on dry land thanks to our three great actors and a workable script (credited to Julia Cox, who adapted Diana Nyad’s autobiography). And we are grateful for that.

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