Love is rarely in the air at your local cineplex.
The rom-com is all but dead, buried by Kate Hudson and Tinsel Town’s increasingly tin ear. Tear jerker romances come and go, but they’re rarely good enough to grab our attention.
Maybe all the genre needed was a hefty dose of Mother Nature.
“Adrift” tells the true story of a couple facing a massive storm aboard their floating love shack. What follows is a clever blend of genres: Survival 101 with a heaping helping of romance. Sound like an odd mix? It’s actually more like a life preserver thrown at a genre that deserves far more love than it receives.
Shailene Woodley stars as Tami, a prototypical free spirit who’d rather be anywhere except in her comfy San Diego home. When she meets a bearded sailor named Richard (Sam Claflin, “The Hunger Games”), sparks fly. Or rather they gently skitter across the screen until the two finally embrace.
Understatement is “Adrift’s” best pal.
Tami and Richard, taking a page from a certain dentist elf, want to free spirits … together. And a sailing trip suggested by an old chum nudges them in that direction. Only the elements have something awful in store for them.
“Adrift” opens with the fallout from that unrelenting storm. From there, director Baltasar Kormakur (“Everest”) dances between the budding romance and a fight for survival. It’s the latter that ends up grabbing our attention, and not for just the obvious reasons.
Kormakur doesn’t engage in CGI overkill or other easily available tics. His water-borne disaster unfolds slowly, with bursts of violence captured with a surprising elegance.
Shot primarily on open water, “Adrift” lacks the artificial gleam of similar yarns. We’re also shielded from some of the grislier elements of the couple’s plight. Richard endures a gruesome leg injury, but the director’s camera doesn’t zoom in for any torture porn overkill.
That same sense of restraint fails “Adrift” in the romance department. Woodley and Claflin are prettier than a picture, but their relationship teeters on the bland side. We’re rooting for them, in part, because that’s what you’re supposed to do when two like-minded souls connect.
Being free spirits often comes with a nagging stubborness. That side of their courtship, hinted at but quickly brushed aside, could have granted their love story texture. As it stands, Nicholas Sparks might glance at their embraces and say, “where’s the grit?”
“Adrift” works best without Googling the real story’s final act. There’s something else at play here beyond the dueling storylines. It’s lurking beneath the surface, a narrative ripple you’ll find satisfying even if you spot it from a mile away.
HT or Miss: Sick of big, bloated blockbusters? “Adrift” is your perfect summer counterprogramming.