Part sappy love story and part lost at sea tragedy, the weak melodrama “Adrift” wallows in clumsy mediocrity. The film is based on the true story of Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), a couple who sailed directly into one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history in the early 1980s. When Richard is seriously injured and their boat is smashed in the storm’s aftermath, Tami realizes a rescue is unlikely and musters up the determination to save herself and her new boyfriend by plotting a wind-driven course to Hawaii.
All of this has been done better in other adrift at sea movies (“All Is Lost,” “Life of Pi”) and this film is further weighted down by a back and forth story line between the couple’s fight for survival and distracting flashbacks to their shallow romance. Just when things become emotionally satisfying and increasingly intense, there’s an abrupt jump to the past that turns the spotlight back on the tiresome romance. It’s a repetitive blunder in storytelling that completely removes you from the more compelling aspects of this woman’s life-or-death adventure tale.
The talented Woodley does the best she can with the material and she’s completely believable as a free-spirited hippie who meets an older, attractive man, begins a whirlwind romance, and after a few weeks embarks on a fateful sailing from Tahiti to California. She’s perfectly cast with the right combination of athleticism and impassioned heft. She’s an emotionally satisfying, tough lead character, an independent woman who confronts her catastrophic situation with strength and determination to survive. Claflin is given very little to do except sit around and look pretty. Their love story flounders because the chemistry is scarce between the two leads; the plight these characters face is far more interesting than the characters themselves.
The big storm is an all too brief action sequence that lacks the edge of your seat excitement that films like this demand. Tami’s methods of survival (catching fish, navigating by stars with a sextant, drinking rainwater, shooting flares) are the same ones we’ve seen dozens of times before.
There’s nothing inspiring nor compelling about this mediocre survival drama, and this ship ultimately sinks under the weight of lackluster predictability.