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Young Woman and the Sea Review: Triumph of Heart

A woman wears a swimming cap and looks ahead surrounded by a cheering crowd in the film Young Woman and the Sea

Disney’s sports drama, Young Woman and the Sea, illustrates Daisy Ridley’s star power in this touching, yet self-imposing, new film.

Director: Joachim Rønning
Genre: Sports Drama
Run Time: 129′
Global Release Date: May 31, 2024
Where to watch: in theaters

Trudy Ederle, the subject of Disney’s newest sports drama Young Woman and the Sea, was not expected to make it far in life. She was a first-generation American, one of six children to German immigrant parents. She developed measles at a very young age and when a doctor came to inspect her, he told her family she wouldn’t make it through the night.

Lo and behold, this would be the first of many things she proved people wrong about. Not only did Trudy live through the night, she went on to become the most accomplished athlete of her time earning the title of the first woman to ever swim across the English Channel. 

Trudy’s story is one of strength, perseverance and courage in the face of endless doubt. She stands as one of the most important figures in sports history. This dramatized interpretation of her journey to cross the English Channel in 1926 holds a heavy weight of responsibility to tell her story right, but unfortunately, this often causes the film to lose its balance no matter how hard Daisy Ridley may try to keep it afloat. 

Young Woman and the Sea follows the life of Trudy Ederle (Daisy Ridley, of Sometimes I Think About Dying), who from a young age vowed to swart any challenge that life would hand her. During her battle with measles as a child, she witnessed a boat catch on fire close to the docks near her house. Her mother, Gertrud (Jeanette Hain), told her the majority of the casualties were women, even though they would most likely have survived if they had abandoned the ship due to how close the boat was to the harbor. When young Trudy asks why the women didn’t jump, her mother responds, “Because they didn’t know how to swim”. 

As soon as she recovers, Gertrud decides both Trudy and her older sister Margaret (Tilda Cobham-Herve) will learn to swim, against her husband Henry’s (Kim Bodnia) ardent disapproval. Once the girls enter the water, they never want to leave. After discovering the boy’s competitive swim team, the girls set out to join a team of their own, which is where Trudy finds she is a truly talent swimmer. As she begins to break local and national records, she sets her sights on what seems like the impossible, becoming the first woman to cross the 21-mile distance of the English Channel. While determined to succeed, Trudy faces endless obstacles as the world does not seem ready to accept a female athlete of her caliber. 

Two women hug in the film Young Woman and the Sea
(L-R): Jeanette Hain as Gertrud Ederle and Daisy Ridley as Trudy Ederle in Disney’s live-action Young Woman and the Sea. Photo by Vladisav Lepoev. © 2024 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Young Woman and the Sea does a beautiful job of underlining the importance of Trudy Ederle’s accomplishments by showing just how high the cards were stacked against her. From her coach initially refusing to take her to nobody being willing to fund her attempt to cross the Channel, the film makes it clear that the road to making history, especially as a woman, is caked full of landmines left by people who prey on the demise of the determined. 

Director Joachim Rønning repeatedly acknowledges the importance Trudy’s relationship with her older sister had to her story. While the two sisters grew into different people, they started off as two inseparable girls who wanted more than anything to swim with one another. Rønning ensures to emphasize throughout the film that, no matter what Trudy triumphs over or falters on, her love for swimming has always been tied to her love for her sister. 

Unfortunately, the movie is unable to keep its strengths consistent throughout the duration of its run time. There is a forced sincerity that undermines the project as a whole, making it feel like it’s trying too hard to be impactful when it doesn’t need the candy-coated one-liners to make audience members engage with the material. 

Trudy Ederle is a feat of human nature. She wasn’t supposed to live past her childhood. She wasn’t allowed a crumb of the same opportunities male swimmers (who did not possess even a quarter of her talent) were, and yet she made history. The structure of the plot and the dramatized liberties the film takes to tell the story achieve the desired impact, but the dialogue specifically cheapens it in a way that is hard to ignore. 

With an ostentatious score backing seemingly every single line of dialogue, there are too many moments made to feel monumental for any one of them to stick out from the rest. Daisy Ridley plays this role beautifully, and with an ease that should alleviate the need for such aggressively self-important dialogue. It becomes hard to watch her repeatedly try and make each line land in an attempt to prove that Trudy Ederle was full of snappy quips and sharp wit. 

Young Woman and the Sea: Trailer (Walt Disney Studios)

The real Trudy Ederle accomplished plenty in real life, which makes these lines seem like the writers are overdoing it and trying to aggrandize a woman who needed no added charm. Ridley has the level of charisma and talent needed to play a woman like Trudy without the over-the-top dialogue that feels like it’s fumbling to try and establish a pull quote for the film’s poster. 

While the movie manages to not collapse under the weight of the titan it is trying to lift up due to a moving third act masterfully acted by the film’s ensemble, it shows cracks in its foundation incredibly early on. It’s unfortunate because, at the center of this movie, there is a truly important story about a legendary woman being told. 

At its best, Young Woman and the Sea stands as a tribute to the disruptors of the norm. The women who refused to listen to what society told them they needed to be and became who they always knew they could be instead. While not perfect, it proves it is worth the watch in the strength of the subject matter and performances alike. The film illustrates the reality that life will never hand you your victories, especially as a young woman, but if you look closely enough, it may just show you an opportunity to claim one yourself. 

Young Woman and the Sea is out now globally in theaters.

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