In the immersive narrative feature debut by Academy Award-winning filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, the captivating journey of Diana Nyad’s 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida unfolds against the backdrop of a classic sports tale. This highly anticipated biopic, controversial yet crowd-pleasing, premiered on Netflix, bringing to life Nyad’s incredible feat and the platonic love story that defines it.
Diana Nyad’s Epic Odyssey: From Cuba to Florida
Chronicling Nyad’s relentless pursuit of a dream deferred for three decades, “Nyad” explores the charismatic and divisive long-distance swimmer’s triumph. At the age of 64, Nyad, a retired marathon swimmer turned sports journalist, completed the 53-hour, 110-mile trek from Cuba to Florida on her fifth attempt, etching her name among the elite in the world of swimming.
The film, adapted from Nyad’s memoir “Find a Way” by Julia Cox, captures the emotional depth of Nyad’s journey and her unyielding determination to conquer a challenge that lingered in the recesses of her imagination since the age of 28.
A Cast of Powerhouses: Annette Bening and Jodie Foster Dive In
For their narrative feature debut, Vasarhelyi and Chin enlisted the talents of four-time Academy Award nominee Annette Bening to portray Nyad and two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster as her best friend and coach, Bonnie Stoll. The casting choices proved inspired, with Bening and Foster immersing themselves not only in the characters but also undergoing physical transformations that mirrored the dedication of the real-life athletes.
Bening’s commitment to the role, including a year of training with an ex-Olympic swimmer, left the cast and crew in awe. Chin noted her transformation, saying, “Her body had transformed; she looked like an Olympic swimmer, and we just were so moved by that commitment.” Foster, too, delved into the psychology of her character, bringing depth to the platonic friendship at the heart of the narrative.
Pushing Cinematic Boundaries: Visceral Swimming Sequences
To capture the drama unfolding in the water, the filmmakers collaborated with Oscar-winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda, known for his work on “Life of Pi” and “Top Gun: Maverick.” The swimming sequences in “Nyad” were shot with a goal to provide viewers with a visceral and unique experience. The cinematography aimed to convey the scope and scale of Nyad’s environment while delving into her internal struggles.
Friendship as the Heart of the Story
Beyond the swimming prowess and physical challenges, “Nyad” focuses on the platonic friendship between Diana Nyad and Bonnie Stoll. Vasarhelyi emphasized, “The focus always was that Diana Nyad had to go on a journey of emotional growth, and it was only through the support and friendship of Bonnie [that] she was able to move beyond certain traumas and find the freedom to make it to the other shore.”
Controversy and Challenges: Nyad’s Legacy in Question
While Nyad’s swim has been celebrated as a testament to human endurance, it has not been without controversy. Some in the marathon swimming community question the legitimacy of her achievement, sparking investigations and debates. Vasarhelyi and Chin, however, maintain that the essence of “Nyad” is not about claiming records but about showcasing the indomitable spirit and ambition that propels individuals to pursue their dreams, no matter the age.
A Celebration of Complexity: Nyad as a Multilayered Inspiration
In portraying Diana Nyad, the filmmakers aimed to present her in all her complexity, describing her as a metaphorical mille-feuille—a multilayered French pastry that is both “complicated” yet “vulnerable.” Vasarhelyi highlighted the societal discomfort with women showing ambition and aging bodies but commended the commitment of Bening and Foster to authenticity.
As “Nyad” dives into the depths of triumph, friendship, and ambition, it challenges preconceptions and invites viewers to appreciate the multifaceted journey of a remarkable woman.