One woman's true story remains uneclipsed by the combined star power of the film's two leads

#SGWatch4U is our weekly screen review column where we tackle anything from film to TV/Netflix.


The first time we caught the trailer of Adrift, one witty YouTube comment stood out:

Sam Claflin's agent: "Ok, it's a moving love story where you're gonna play a dying character who can't move, and you'll co-star with a woman who has to take care of you."

Sam Claflin: "Again?!"

Hilarious, but it didn’t leave much room for high expectations. An incapacitated Me Before You Claflin was one thing; but would Shailene Woodley play once again her type-casted role of naive, sweet young thing? Would the film end up fading into the growing Hollywood inventory of “based on a true story” flops? The saccharine sweet potential of a Nicholas Sparks-esque romantic drama didn’t prepare us for the reality—of being completely won over by the heart and unbreakable spirit behind Adrift and its talented storytellers.

Set in 1983 in Tahiti, the film tells the true story of survivor Tami Oldham (Woodley) and her fiancee Richard Sharp (Claflin). What starts as an inspiring adventure undertaken by two plucky young nomads, certain they’ve found their soulmate in each other, turns into a disastrous account of survival when they end up sailing into the eye of the storm—specifically, Hurricane Raymond that tied for the strongest tropical cyclone in the Eastern Pacific Ocean that year. Their sailboat is wrecked, Sharp is wounded, and Oldham has to find the strength to carry on for the both of them.


Shailene Woodley is real-life Wonder Woman Tami Oldham

The film itself is sensitively cut, abandoning chronology for a delicate back-and-forth between past and present that makes the current events all the more heartbreaking. Its commitment to accuracy is likely due in part to director Baltasar Komakur, who brings his bizarre fondness for real-life survivor memoirs (his latest project was 2015 biographical film Everest on the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster). Interestingly, the script (adapted from Oldham’s self-penned memoir) was written by twin screenwriters and producers Aaron and Jordan Kandell, who were also behind 2017’s seafaring voyage story Moana. Their love for the ocean doesn’t come through in stunning vistas of the Pacific—but in the focus on Oldham’s resilient story as a survivor. For 41 days she drifted alone and dehydrated in the ocean, subsisting on diminishing supplies and the fire of the human spirit.

If there were any initial doubts about Woodley’s portrayal of such a strong character, they’re quickly dashed early into the film. The 27-year-old actress has an enduring charm even when she’s stranded, bloody and helpless, at sea. She is, as Claflin’s Richard calls her, “fearless like a bloke”—accomplishing impossible tasks like repairing their ruined boat, triangulating a new course, and even spearing fish by hand in the ocean; all at 24. And for all its criticism, the natural, sprightly youngness Woodley brings to Tami becomes crucial, in fleshing out the dynamic with her fatally injured lover nine years her senior.


Sam Claflin in yet another helpless role

At times Sam Claflin does fall back on his irresistibly rugged good looks and British charm. But he portrays Sharp as how one would expect him to—the older, mysterious foreigner who reserves his few words and quiet strength for the people he truly cares about. Their chemistry may be lacking a certain sizzle, but there is a tender, genuine co-reliance hidden in the pair’s interactions that warms the iciest of hearts in the cinema. Woodley’s four-time co-star Miles Teller was reportedly in talks for the role of Sharp, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. Thank God; to stomach another Woodley-Teller collaboration would have been agony, not to mention grossly unfitting for Tami and Richard’s courageous love story.

A beautiful (recurring) motif in the movie teases the adage “Red sky at night, sailors take delight / Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” The final act, a gripping conclusion to a well-paced narrative, will no doubt leave you shaken, and reflecting long after you’ve left the cinema. Tami Oldham turns 58 this year, and somehow we’re certain that she too agrees Adrift does justice to her incredible story.


Adrift is now showing in cinemas at Golden Village.