No two ways about it, folks, this summer movie season is off to a BAAAD start.

As late as three weeks ago, everybody knew that Furiosa was going to do gangbusters. So naturally, the studio considered its second weekend a dumping ground for smaller and less lucrative films the studios had zero faith in. Whatever we all expected, the exact opposite happened.

Sure, everyone who’s seen Furiosa seems to like it well enough, but that hasn’t translated into ticket sales. Memorial Day weekend grosses were historically bad, leaving studios holding the bag with a surplus of underpromoted films nobody will want to go see. Even though most of them have built up some solid critical reception.

So here we are with The Young Woman and the Sea, a film that would’ve gone direct to streaming if Disney had done any less to promote it. Granted, biopics have been on a downturn lately — just look at how quickly The Boys in the Boat, Bob Marley: One Love, and Back to Black all vanished. Yet the critical reception has been surprisingly good so far, and who doesn’t like Daisy Ridley?

(Side note: In fact, the film was originally set to go directly to Disney+, until some genius figured out the film was ideally suited to ride the coattails of the 2024 Summer Olympics. Oh, and everyone needed films to cover the post-strike drought, I’m sure that was another factor.)

I might add that Daisy Ridley is exec-producing here, alongside none other than Jerry Bruckheimer. Seriously, has Jerry goddamn Bruckheimer sunken so low that he can’t open a blockbuster anymore? Actually, based on how The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare crashed and burned in ticket sales, maybe he has.

Anyway, this is the story of Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle, here immortalized by Ridley. In 1905, Ederle was born to German immigrants in NYC. As a child, Ederle was deemed a health risk after she nearly died of measles: She was barred from public pools for fear that she was still a carrier, and the aftereffects put her at greater risk of permanent hearing loss caused by too much water in her ears (which did eventually happen).

So it was that Ederle learned to swim in the Atlantic Ocean. From there, she kept climbing the ladder until she claimed a gold medal and two bronzes in the 1924 Olympics, in addition to pretty much every world swimming record a woman was eligible for. Then came 1926, when Ederle famously became the first woman to swim the English Channel, and she did it two hours faster than any of the four men who had previously completed the trip.

(Side note: If anyone’s worried about Ederle or her estate and how they feel about this movie, there’s conveniently no need. Trudy Ederle never married, she had no children, and she passed away in 2005 at the impressive age of 98.)

This much is established history. Now let’s contrast that with the film’s depiction of events.

The film opens with the General Slocum disaster, in which over 1,000 people — mostly women and children — died because they couldn’t swim. It’s true that this did motivate New Yorkers to learn how to swim as a matter of safety, and it’s depicted as the main reason why Trudy’s mother (here played by Jeanette Hain) wanted her kids to learn how to swim. Problem: The General Slocum burned down in 1904, a year before Trudy was actually born.

Another big issue concerns Ederle’s Olympic record. As depicted in the film, Trudy never won a single gold medal and her trip to the Olympics was a total wash. Because institutional sexism set Trudy and her teammates up to fail, you see. Which brings us to the matter of Jabez Wolffe.

In previous years, Wolffe had tried and failed no less than 22 times to swim across the English Channel. He was assigned by Ederle’s sponsors to coach her first attempt at crossing the Channel, complaining the whole time that women weren’t physically capable of making the trip. Ederle’s first effort was disqualified when Wolffe ordered another swimmer (who never appears in the film) to recover her from the water — Wolffe claimed it was a good-faith effort at saving her life, and Ederle claimed it was sabotage.

Naturally, the movie takes Ederle’s side. Par for the course with a biopic. Except the filmmakers go even further by clearly and explicitly showing Wolffe (here played to the cheap seats by Christopher Eccleston) poison Trudy in the middle of her swim. This is the level of nuance the filmmakers were going for.

Oh, and another thing: In the film, Trudy is ready for her second attempt pretty much immediately after her first. In reality, Ederle waited a year to try again. This kind of time compression is of course standard in any adaptation, but it also speaks to the greater M.O. of making Trudy look more awesome while making her opposition look more sexist and obnoxious.

Admittedly, the film does a good job establishing the stakes, selling how exceedingly difficult and potentially fatal it could be to try and cross the channel. We clearly understand how monumental the stakes are. When Trudy says she’ll either make it to England or die trying, it’s abundantly obvious she means it because she’s got nothing else to live for at this point.

The filmmakers do a convincing job of portraying this as a make-or-break moment for Trudy and for female athletes worldwide. Trouble is, this is mostly accomplished through aggressively blunt dialogue and laughably one-dimensional characters.

Pretty much everyone in this movie is either a wholly sympathetic feminist or a mustache-twirling chauvinist villain, without much of any nuance or intelligent commentary. This is very much a movie that operates on primal emotions instead of rational thought, favoring the old tried-and-true without any kind of innovation or novelty. (That’s Bruckheimer for you.) As a direct result, the film is a monotonous and tedious bore to sit through for most of the runtime.

Granted, there are some highlights. I was particularly fond of Meg Ederle (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), who came up swimming alongside Trudy. Alas, Meg kept coming in second to Trudy and there’s no room for second place at this level. I was genuinely intrigued by this character who had to give up on her dreams of competitive swimming, watching her sister go where she couldn’t follow. So Meg settles down for her father’s small-minded and archaic vision of what should be, while Trudy does her best to run away from all that and take Meg with her.

It’s a genuinely intriguing and nuanced arc. Too bad Meg is pretty much wholly absent from the second act.

Daisy Ridley is of course fantastic, but it helps that she’s got the most to work with. Cobham-Hervey holds her own as Meg, and Sian Clifford is suitably plucky as the resident swimming coach, but they’re both absent through huge stretches of runtime. Ditto for Stephen Graham, who turns in a delightfully crazy-funny performance when he finally shows up. Otherwise, it’s a parade of actors hamming it up as cellophane chauvinist assholes setting up women to fail for the glory of the American White Man. A cacophony of bigots who simultaneously want Trudy to cover herself and pose for photos.

And then the third act comes.

That last half-hour is Trudy’s big attempt at swimming across the English Channel. Practically nothing but Trudy and her few fellow sympathetic characters in 21 miles of water. Nothing but Trudy and her drive to succeed at all costs, completely isolated from the sexist world dragging down our lead character and the film as a whole.

The third act is comprised of pretty much everything that’s good about the film and nothing that isn’t. Pure inspirational heartwarming cinema like you’d expect from any other underdog sports film. And a lot of that is due to Amelia Warner, powering the drama with a triumphant score.

The Young Woman and the Sea is formulaic pablum like only Jerry Bruckheimer could deliver. It’s brainless, it’s void of all nuance, and it has absolutely nothing new or intelligent to say. But at the same time, it’s satisfying in a way that hits all the expected beats of an underdog sports story.

I can’t even call this an Oscar-bait movie, because this wasn’t even built to last until Oscar season. This was built to be enjoyed and forgotten within two hours. I can recommend it for a home video viewing, but that’s about it.


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