Shailene Woodley Gives Another Powerful Performance in Disaster Romance ‘Adrift’

After winning hearts as a cancer-stricken teen lover in “The Fault in Our Stars” and wowing audiences with her turn as a single mom with a troubled past in “Big Little Lies,” Shailene Woodley further proves herself as a versatile actress in “Adrift.” Based on a true story, Woodley stars as Tami Oldham, a 24-year-old woman whom we first meet during the most terrifying moment in her life, coming to on a damaged yacht following a devastating hurricane. Bleeding and disoriented, she proceeds to search for her fiance, Richard (Sam Claflin), but all she sees is open water, thus beginning a nightmarish ordeal and a gripping fight for survival.

Flashback to five months earlier, to 1983 Tahiti, and the viewer sees a very different Tami, a laid-back California girl who has spent her whole adult life as a nomad, making a living scrubbing boats and doing other odd jobs. She meets Richard, a rugged British sailor and fellow free spirit, and the chemistry is instant. Back to post-Hurricane, she finds Richard hanging from a dingy. In a real moment of heroism, Tami swims out to save her man. Having shattered his leg and broken several ribs, he is rendered immobile for the rest of their time at sea – a harrowing 41 days – forcing Tami to muster all her strengths and wits to survive.

Interwoven throughout this “Castaway”-esque are more flashbacks that give the viewer a sense of who Tami and Richard are, why we should care about them, and how they came to be in their current dire situation. Although they are from different background, neither of them had the most ideal childhood, which helps explain the hesitation on both of their parts to put down roots. The lovebirds are about to set sail on a trip around the world when Richard is presented an offer he can’t refuse. A wealthy older couple (Jeffrey Thomas, Elizabeth Hawthorne) asks the younger man to sail their luxury yacht from Fiji to San Diego in exchange for a hefty sum. The final destination of this journey gives Tami pause, as San Diego is her hometown and she hasn’t been back in over five years. However, she agrees to come along, even making plans to introduce Richard to her family. The end to her wandering loner days seem to come to an official end upon her acceptance of Richard’s impromptu proposal at sea, making what transpires next all the more heartbreaking.

There’s a twist near the end of “Adrift,” one that is hinted at and will come as no surprise with anyone who is familiar with the real Tami’s memoir, “Red Sky Mourning.” However, screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kandell, the brother team behind “Moana,” get points for creativity in bringing to life this story of love and survival. And with “Everest” director Baltasar Kormákur at the helm, there’s plenty of natural beauty. But Woodley is the real MVP here, as she goes through the gamut of emotions and is exposed to the elements, as most of the filming was done in open water in Fiji. It’s thanks to her that Tami’s desperation and perseverance come through so vividly. Claflin, a more low-key actor who has been experiencing a slow and steady rise, also deserves props for his subtle and emotionally impactful performance.

Adrift” opens June 1 nationwide.