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Film Review: Young Woman and the Sea

Young Woman and the Sea
Rated PG
129 Minutes
Released May 31st

Do we need another movie about a record-breaking woman swimmer?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!” Young Woman and the Sea Is based on an inspiring true story and was originally relegated to “streaming only,” with very little advertising. But when audiences in marketing tests gave it overwhelmingly positive ratings, producer Jerry Bruckheimer was able to convince Disney to release it to theatres. It’s the story of Gertrude Ederle, who broke records in 1926 by being the first woman to swim across the English Channel, beating the times of men who had made the swim by two hours. It’s a montage of moments in Trudy Ederle’s life that lead to her decision to brave the Channel’s treacherous currents and weather, an in-depth painting of Trudy and the people who shaped her life. It illustrates the courage of someone who overcame self-doubt and public doubt.

I was always fascinated by the social and artistic environment of the 1920s, and I was also an aspiring competitive swimmer in my teens, so I can vouch for the realism of this movie. I knew well who Ederle was, but most people today have never heard of her until now. The film’s locations and set furnishings are meticulous. The environment is a social history of the early 1900s, focusing on Ederle’s German immigrant working-class family in New York City, where a tragic incident leads Trudy’s mother to take her two young daughters to swim lessons. The architecture, the objects of daily life, and the interiors are incredibly detailed and shot beautifully by cinematographer Oscar Faura. Scenes of Trudy, played by Daisy Ridley, as she swims in open water, are in a different style from in Nyad, and just as effective at making you feel like you are surrounded by ocean. 

Bruckheimer has over 5 decades of experience making movies, including wildly popular franchises like Top Gun, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Bad Boys. It’s great to see him doing a project that’s not about swashbuckling men. He says he loves making movies that educate as well as entertain and notes that this shoot was much like Top Gun in that the action is really being done in front of the camera. He recruited a perfect crew and cast to make this film. 

He selected his Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales director, Joachim Ronning, to helm this movie. There is a theme of vast bodies of water that runs through Ronning’s career. He shot Kon Tiki in 2012, about explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s crossing 4500 miles of the Pacific Ocean on a balsa wood raft. Ronning grew up at the edge of the sea in Sandefjord, Norway, and began his career shooting award-winning commercials for products such as Capital One, Labatts, and the Budweiser “Rex” Superbowl ad. A good commercial director learns to wrap their audience in a story within 30 to 60 seconds. It’s a great training ground for feature directing. He highlights the challenges in Trudy’s life and balances the narrative of how she built her resilience and determination without ever losing the thread. That’s hard to achieve. Says Ronning, “I have the king of pacing as my producer, Jerry Bruckheimer…he has a remarkable ability to have his finger on the spectator’s pulse and know when something is dragging.” Ronning gives this movie a depth of consciousness and presence in being surrounded by water. He says, “I wanted to be on the ocean. I wanted to be in the real elements, with Daisy Ridley swimming through the currents and cold water.”

Ridley is a force of nature, much as Trudy Ederly was. She is an actress and dancer but not an athlete. She trained with an Olympian swimmer for 4 months in the open sea and filmed in ice-cold water for 10-12 hours a day for weeks. According to Bruckheimer, she gave everything she had to make the movie. The rest of the crew and cast are extraordinary as well. Many of the crew put their lives on hold, waiting for the shoot to start, because they loved the script. You can feel that watching the film. Cinematographer Faura designed special camera rigs, cranes, and wires to capture his shots. Actress/composer Amanda Wagner wrote a superb score for the film. Editor Una Ni Dhonghaile and production designer Nora Takacs-Ekberg added more inspired work to the production. Jenette Hain as Trudy’s mother and Tilda Cobham-Hervey as her sister are brilliant, and Stephen Graham gives a stand-out performance as eccentric swimmer “Bill Burgess.”

This movie needs to be watched on the big screen, and it’s worth every penny of the ticket price. It’s a film that will inspire the whole family. I believe it will be nominated for several Oscars in 2025, including Best Picture.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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