Director: Joachim Rønning Screenwriter: Jeff Nathanson Cast: Daisy Ridley, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Stephen Graham, Kim Bodnia, Christopher Eccleston, Glenn Fleshler Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Running Time: 129 min. MPAA: PG

The inspiring story of Trudy Ederle is given the standard sports biopic treatment. It swims to a familiar beat and has all the same trappings that make these types of movies more enticing for the info than the execution. During Trudy’s rise to fame as the first woman to cross the English Channel, she is warned about how her failure could mean the end of women swimming. On that level, it might please the core demographic that Young Woman and the Sea is on the same level as every lukewarm true-story sports drama ever to grace the theater. It’s an almost maddeningly level of a procedural triumph tale, more committed to playing up its melodrama than spinning anything new from this movie-made material.

There’s an almost irritating level of softness to the film’s depiction of the discriminatory 1920s. Trudy, portrayed strongly by Daisy Ridley, is established early as someone who is going to triumph over adversity. Early in the film, she is sick and feared to die young. But then she saunters down the stairs to her family’s shock, hardly feeling sick at all. Miracles do happen and they’ll happen again as Trudy aspires to swim. She takes note of her sister, Meg (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), and how she defies gender expectations by learning to swim like a pro. After much musical protest against her scrutinizing father (Kim Bodnia), her talents will rise under the strict leadership of the inspiring Charlotte (Sian Clifford) and the less helpful efforts of trainer Jabez Wolffe (Christopher Eccleston).

Trudy’s swim career is directed solidly that it’s easy to get as engaged as the spectators. The abundance of shots over and under the water are exciting enough and match up with the obligatory swelling of the soundtrack, growing more epic as Trudy nears her final lap or makes it across miles of water. Part of Trudy’s training is that she swims to the beat of music, mentally aiding in her rhymth and form. The film is very much the same way, keeping pace to ensure that Trudy’s eventual swim across the English Channel to break a record is given gravitas. But while some care was placed into these key moments of the film, the swimming-along of such a production lets some aspects sink. This framing reduces Jabez to the bitter swimmer who stamps his feet at Trudy’s success, while the encouraging sailor Bill Burgess (Stephen Graham) cackles towards the finish line.

There’s little time to feel for the characters beyond the swimming goals. In the background, Trudy’s quietly scrutinizing mother (Jeanette Hain) recognizes the necessity of swimming (highlighting a boat accident where many women drowned), but also the reckless nature of her growing children. Her concerns are noteworthy considering how Meg feels like her options are limited, where marriage seems to be the only future for someone like her. Coupled with the gender inequality of the era and representation of America amid the Olympics, there’s a whole bucket of extra material worth covering that this film mostly dumps overboard. Trimmed to make room for the swimming highlights, the drama comes off more like melodrama, where there’s no time to feel the heft of Trudy’s daring multi-hour dash through miles of water. Breather moments are treated like Trudy’s swimming maneuvers; breathe quickly and then force that face back into the water.

Young Woman and the Sea is inspiring on its surface level despite looking rather shallow beneath its speedy and glossy waves. It’s the type of film worth putting on in the classroom, bringing history to life just enough to appreciate the vigor of someone like Trudy and root for her to prove everybody wrong. While there’s some satisfaction in watching her arrive on shore after enduring harsh waves and attacks by jellyfish, the wheels to move this story are so familiar that you can hear the rust as they grind through all the motions. It’s a story that deserves to be told, but is unfortunately told in way where you’ve heard it many times before.

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