True Spirit – Picture: Netflix

The story of the youngest person to sail solo non-stop around the world, True Spirit, is now airing, but should you watch it?

Teagan Croft (HBO Max’s) titans) stars true spirit as 16-year-old Jessica Watson, based on a biopic based on a true story of her life as the youngest person to sail solo, nonstop, and unassisted around the world.

Alongside Teagan, the film also stars Anna Paquin (True Blood, X Men) as Jessica’s mother, Julie, Cliff Curtis (whale rider, Avatar: The Path of Water) as Jessica’s sailing mentor Ben Bryant and Josh Lawson (cobra kai, house of lies) as Jessica’s father, Roger.

The film is co-written and directed by Sarah Spillane, whose latest feature, 2013 around the blockit also dove into the inspirational film category with the story of an American teacher in Australia who encourages her at-risk students by releasing an all-Aboriginal cast version of Hamlet.

Of the many varieties of inspirational movies, especially sports and survival related stories, True Spirit falls into the watered down and sanitized made-for-TV version of the category. Unlike last year’s much more cinematic and impressive Netflix sports biopic, The swimmersthis movie has very little edge, personal connection, or larger storytelling that could elevate the best efforts of the genre.

The lack of personal connections is the hardest pill to swallow in this one, as most of the movie consists of satellite phone calls from Jessica at home while she’s alone at sea.

While the occasional teary-eyed desperate call to the character of Anna Paquin’s mother will register some emotion from any parent, the real missed opportunity for story depth and character growth is in the cleverly handled bond between the underutilized Cliff Curtis as former sailor turned mentor Ben Bryant and Jessica herself. He trains her from a very young age to take her to where she is at the time of her historical journey. However, the relationship feels cold and pedestrian, including a stretch in the film where he abandons her completely and tracks her down from her boat instead of her family home where she had previously camped. When she loses her temper and cuts off communication, we as the audience must really feel that loss and grief for Jessica, and the movie doesn’t make up for that.

Teagan Croft’s lead performance, as Jessica, didn’t seem to register for me either.

While she was helpful in selling the audience as a competent sailor, I rarely felt like she lived up to the emotional ranges this film required. This is largely evident in the scenes where the family lives and dies with every call of very dangerous moments during their journey. She never seems to match the intensely dramatic moments and rarely takes you to her train of thought. Croft had the greatest success of hers in the film’s most desperate moments, where directing her takes her to a heightened emotional state. For example, the scenes where she is stranded at sea for over a week with no wind are some of her best work, as she has to slowly build up hopelessness and despair over a long period of time. Yet once the wind picks up again, the performance and the film itself ironically fall flat, never leading us to a crescendo of relief that launches us back to the end of her journey.

true spirit Anna Paquin Julie Watson Josh Lawson Roger Watson Cliff Curtis Ben Bryan

Chrome Julian Panetta/Netflix © 2023

The strength of the film comes from the stunt team and VFX, as the storm drenched scenes pack a punch. The best sequence in the entire movie is the final storm at sea, where the ship faces nearly 60-foot waves and puts Jessica in the most dangerous situation of hers so near the end of her voyage. However, these scenes are few and far between and don’t save the film from its largely bland outcome.

The true mark of a biopic is how you feel when you see images of the real-life person they represent in action. Do you feel that the film heightened the experience and made it more cinematic? Or do you feel that a documentary could have done a better job of telling the story? In the final moments of this movie, I definitely felt more engaged when the footage of the real Jessica Watson was shown. I felt the raw energy of amateur video shooting. I felt the authenticity of the actual ship that was used to take Jessica on her journey and the lived-in quality of her interior rooms. I was wondering if I should watch the TV documentary 210 Days about Jessica’s solo global circumnavigation, narrated by Sir Richard Branson, and if this movie works enough to inspire the world’s next Jessica Watson.

Overall, the story of Jessica Watson and her historic achievements is worth telling and worthy of being adapted for a movie, but I wanted the film to know the dramatic ups and downs she endured on the high seas. The result is family-friendly and will appeal educationally and potentially inspiring to some, but I wonder if the documentary or his TEDx talk would be as good or better for such a purpose.

Watch True Spirit on Netflix if you want

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True Spirit MVP

Cliff Curtis as Ben Bryant.

In a sadly underdeveloped role, Cliff Curtis did his best to bring a character of any depth and scale to this film. As Jessica Watson’s mentor, Ben Bryant, he played a deeply wounded ex-sailor whose loss at sea has shaped his personality into a dour and emotionally reluctant man who eventually accepts the warmth of the Watson family and finds himself back in command. of their life.



Jessica Watson’s story is worth a look, but it may feel too generic as a film product for much of its intended audience.