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’Young Woman and the Sea’ Review: A Long Swim to Awards Season

Propelling off the not-so-well-received Star Wars sequel trilogy was a tough task for Daisy Ridley. Much to her detriment, the onslaught of rather average films she’s recently starred in hasn’t done anything to garner attention for her as an actress.

With Disney deciding to take a second chance with her in Young Woman and the Sea, the tides may be turning in her favor, though. A dramatic, inspirational biopic about Trudy Ederle, the first woman to ever swim across the English Channel, Ridley breaks through the surface in her most exhilarating role since The Rise of Skywalker. 

Welcome to New York (Trudy’s Version)

’Young Woman and the Sea’ Review: A Long Swim to Awards Season
Young Woman and the Sea / Image Courtesy of Disney

Set primarily in the 1920s just before the Great Depression, the film mostly ignores the glitz and glamor of a prosperous New York during the period, opting to focus on the grounded conditions of Trudy Ederle. The circumstances of the character become a catalyst for Trudy’s journey, as she leaps into the world of water to race across the English Channel. The film covers much of her early life and transition into young adulthood, including her relationship with her sister Margaret (Tilda Cobham-Hervey).

Ridley and Cobham-Hervey have a wonderful sisterly dynamic, and Ridley puts on one hell of a convincing American accent. Though some interactions and dialogue are generic and tropey, the performances mask them just well enough. Surprisingly, the film also functions as a period piece with its built-up weathered townhouses lining New York City and the Edwardian-era garments that inhabit it, creating an effective middle-class setting that feels appropriate. 

A Rey-demption Arc

The film thoroughly showcases Trudy’s training and tribulations as she makes her way into the upper echelons of world-class swimmers, proving that she indeed had to face challenges throughout her career in many ways. Young Woman and the Sea seems to be a redemption arc for Ridley as, to compare against Ridley’s lifetime as Rey, one common complaint about the Star Wars sequels was that Rey acquired her skills too easily with very little training.

Ridley, and the character she portrays, brave through lots of physical exertion and vocal belittlement that ultimately strengthen both of their will and resilience. A lot of the movie is over-dramatized, and can come off as cheesy at times, but the primary message is pure at heart: remain strong through adversities.

’Young Woman and the Sea’ Review: A Long Swim to Awards Season
Young Woman and the Sea / Image Courtesy of Disney

For as much opposition that Trudy had against her goal, there was an equal, if not an even greater amount of overwhelming support for her endeavor, primarily from the secondary heart of the film, her mom (Jeanette Hain). While Ridley puts on a strong and persistent performance, Hain demands much more subtlety and seriousness with hers, remaining stern and adamant in her motherly duties. The concern she holds for Trudy as she makes her way to England is sort of a shared visceral feeling, and it’s a perfect contrast of “field over family” as Trudy chooses to chase the green light across the bay, defying her parents’ wishes for her to abandon her hobby.

A NYAD in the Force

An aspiring swimmer makes multiple attempts at a daring swim across a large body of water with a female companion to guide her. Sound familiar? Last year, Netflix campaigned Annette Bening in the “best actress” category for their film NYAD, which has almost the exact same story beats as Young Woman and the Sea, making it a topic of contention upon the film’s release. With Disney recently announcing that they will not be releasing the box office numbers for this film, as they submit it for consideration in the upcoming awards season, it’ll be interesting to see how Young Woman fares against other contenders being that it’s almost a carbon copy of NYAD, even if it’s marginally better. NYAD itself was received with a lukewarm response, and although Bening’s performance was serviceable for that film, it just wasn’t Oscar-worthy material, making it an odd choice to campaign it in such an esteemed category. 

’Young Woman and the Sea’ Review: A Long Swim to Awards Season
Young Woman and the Sea / Image Courtesy of Disney

Young Woman and the Sea may be seeing a similar storm ahead, if Disney decides to take that gamble and pursue the same route. As of now, the odds of the film winning any awards are up in the air, depending on which areas they want to push the film in and how strong other potential nominees are. Their most likely option would be to follow in the same footsteps as NYAD and campaign Ridley for best actress, in which case she will have a slim, but very possible, fighting chance. 

If She Can Make It There, She’ll Make It Anywhere

The first half of 2024 has seen mostly standard performances, and even more standard films. But with the debut of many arthouse films at the Cannes Film Festival, that are also due to release later this year, the second half seems to be producing a much stronger slate of potential nominees that can certainly rival Ridley. The safest route they could probably go is by submitting it for “best score”.

Composed by Amelia Warner, the orchestral music is uplifting and hopeful, complementing Trudy’s journey across the English Channel with ascending string and wind chords. Winning either of these awards with the odds stacked so highly against them would be a major feat for Disney’s recent lackluster reputation, and might be an exemplary tale for their future creative approaches.

’Young Woman and the Sea’ Review: A Long Swim to Awards Season
Young Woman and the Sea / Image Courtesy of Disney

It’s got a bit of an uphill climb, or rather a swim against the current, but Young Woman and the Sea does indeed make a case for itself. Daisy Ridley makes a triumphant return to screen to showcase her powerful acting range, and hopefully can make a name for herself in the big leagues. The film itself honors Trudy Ederle’s legacy with pomp and circumstance, serving as a beacon of inspiration for all budding athletes of any demographic and sport.

Young Woman and the Sea is now playing in select theaters and stars Daisy Ridley, Tilda Cobham-Harvey, Jeanette Hain, Stephen Graham, Kim Bodnia, and Ethan Rouse. 

Artist by nature, music maker by choice, film enjoyer by force. You can always find Vincent stuck in gridlocked LA traffic.