‘Adrift’: Shailene Woodley Shines as the Heroine Who Is Lost on the Ocean

By Tracy Wang

When they put Sam Claflin from ‘Me Before You’ and Shailene Woodley from the Divergent series movie together, we expect to have some serious romance or action. A romance/thriller-like tale, ‘Adrift’ somehow finds the balance between romance and action, and delivers a survivor’s tale of love and loss.

Both coming from a background of a dysfunctional family, Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) both end up on the shore of Tahiti. An English sailor who wanders around the world in his boat meets a San Diego girl who is not ready to go home, and sparks fly. Soon, they are inseparable, and they embark on a journey back to San Diego to help return the boat of a couple.

A dream journey for both of them, sailing across the ocean turns out to be a disaster, when a category 4 hurricane hit them. A huge wave crashes their boat. Awaken and injured in the cabin of the boat, Tami finds Richard holding on to a wooden boat some distance away from their boat. Badly injured, Richard could do nothing to help Tami fix the boat. Now, it is up to Tami to make sure they reach a shore alive. Will they be able to survive the journey of being adrift on the ocean for days?

Based on a true story and the book Red Sky at Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea by Tami Oldham Ashcraft and Susea McGearhart, ‘Adrift’ tells the story of how Tami and Richard fall in love, and how Tami becomes the only one who can help them survive the aftermath of the storm.

Similar to the feel of its title, most of the film has the feel of them bobbing up and down in the ocean. Other than a few scenes of the storm, the film remains rather slow and meditative, as if we too are along with them, alone on the ocean, waiting to be found and saved.

We groan inwardly with them as Tami looks for any remaining scraps of food and water, and we gasp, when the climax reveals a much more devastating reality. With the film moving back and forth between their budding romance and their survival on the ocean, the heaviness that comes from their dire situation is somewhat dissipated, so instead of focusing solely on the storm and what it does to them, we see growth of a relationship and a woman’s strength and perseverance.

Though the script is at times awkward, Woodley succeeds in carrying the film forward, and carrying our emotions along with her devastation, frustration, and her joy of finally reaching a shore. Director Baltasar Kormákur’s poetic lens also allow us to have a front row seat to everything that happens to them.

At the same time a romance and a thriller, ‘Adrift’ is adrift because of some amazing heroines (the real Tami who still sails today and Woodley who always resonates strength and will) on-screen and off-screen. In the end, what makes ‘Adrift’ so special is its focus on a heroine having the strength and perseverance that are normally only shown on male characters in films.

Ultimately, ‘Adrift’ is a tale of love, loss and how a woman has the strength, both physical and mental, to move forward amidst a disaster and loss.