Inspirational Dramas Are Back with Disney's "Young Woman and the Sea"

Young Woman and the Sea

Director: Joachim Rønning
Starring: Daisy Ridley
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures

Genre(s): Drama
Rated: PG (For thematic elements, some language and partial nudity)

One of the definitive movie-going experiences I had as a kid was seeing "Remember the Titans" in theaters. Not only was it my first true introduction to Denzel Washington as a great actor, but it was also a timeless story that showed the unifying power sports could have (this was impressive as I didn't - and still don't - particularly like sports). It is also the kind of movie Disney stopped making a long time ago. While it could be argued that not all of their inspirational sports films were inspirational or even all that good, they were good beginner films for kids who were getting too old for Saturday morning cartoons but were not yet old enough to watch movies like "Any Given Sunday."

These days Disney is more interested in making Marvel and Star Wars movies, which is why their release of "Young Woman and the Sea" is so surprising: it is a return to the kind of pure movie-making that made them different from other family movies that were in theaters. No, I'm not sitting here like an old grandpa saying that kids' films are too noisy and have too many pop-culture/meta jokes in them. I'm not here to say that movies were better in the 90s (in many cases they weren't). What I am saying is that Disney has gotten so far into franchising, that it sometimes feels like we're choosing between McDonald's and Taco Bell every time we go to the theater.

"Young Woman and the Sea" is a sports drama based on the true life story of Gertrude Ederle (Daisy Ridley) and her attempt to swim across the English Channel. The daughter of an immigrant family, Trudy (as she is called by her friends and family) has a difficult childhood, as she catches the measles at a young age and is not given long to live. She manages to survive, but her hearing is greatly affected and her father becomes overprotective of her. When she develops a passion for swimming, another obstacle arises as swimming could potentially take out the rest of her hearing.

Trudy is determined to follow her dreams though, and not even the sexist attitude of the time-period (the 1910s) will stop her. And chances are you know where this is all going from this point on. Though I may have missed the inspirational dramas that Disney used to make more often, by the time they came to an end I won't lie and say I immediately felt their absence. Despite the true nature of the subjects, the movies tend to be predictable. After all, why is any movie studio going to spend millions of dollars on an inspirational movie where the main character doesn't succeed?

"Young Woman and the Sea" may be, as some critics pointed out, "safe cinema." For many years it was the most digestible kind of movie that was produced. In the past fifteen years, Hollywood has made so little of these kinds of films, that the release of this one is something to celebrate. It greatly helps that Daisy Ridley is a commanding screen presence, who convinces us that behind that pretty smile is the spirit of a warrior. The movie will be dropping on Disney+ in a couple of weeks, but Disney is doing a limited release for awards consideration. If the cheering audience at my screening is any indication of other screenings, this is the way you want to see the film.