REVIEW: “Adrift” is a survival flick with plenty of lessons about life

Tami Oldham is a cheerful 20-something woman who doesn’t have a profession, but that’s OK. She’s going to travel the world anyway.

Her current stop is the Pacific island of Tahiti, where she makes money from odd jobs so that she can get to the “next place” and discover her next adventure.

Don’t expect her to go back to her home city of San Diego, either. She’s going there only after she’s circled the globe.   

It seems like a tall task until she meets a young British man named Richard, who has a sailboat and who also has a passion for travel on the high seas. They fall in love and decide to embark on an adventure across the Pacific – an adventure that could be the beginning of a lifetime together.

Of course, life rarely goes as planned. They sail into a hurricane. Then their boat is capsized. Then Richard goes missing and the inexperienced Tami is forced to fight for survival while she searches the water for her companion.

Adrift (PG-13) opens this weekend, giving us a drama made more exciting because it is based on the true story of a 1983 tragedy that occurred during Hurricane Raymond.

It stars Shailene Woodley (the Divergent trilogy) as Tami and Sam Claflin (Me Before You, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) as Richard, and was directed by Baltasar Kormákur, who also helmed the nature-related films Everest and The Deep.

Adrift is but the latest ocean-survival movie out of Hollywood, following 47 Meters Down (2017), The Shallows (2016), and The Finest Hours (2016). But in this film, there are no sharks and no huge explosions as found in those earlier films. Instead, we have a woman determined not to die alone at sea. That type of story always attracts me, and this time it carries with it plenty of discussion questions. More on that in a moment.  

Warning: minor spoilers!

(Scale key: Minimal, moderate, extreme)


Moderate. We see the sailboat capsize, and then we see Tami and Richard’s injuries. Tami has head wounds including a gash to the head, while Richard has an open wound on his shin. We see Tami stitch up her own wound and we watch her treat Richard’s gash.


Moderate. Tami wears bikinis and a one-piece swimsuit during the film, although the camera doesn’t ogle her figure. She and Richard share a few kisses, but there are no bedroom scenes. They get engaged in the middle of their voyage. We also briefly see Tami partially nude during a heavy rain, post-hurricane.   

Coarse Language

Moderate. About 16 coarse words:  OMG (8), misuse of “God” (2), s—t (2), d—n (1), f-word (1),  misuse of “Christ” (1) and h-ll (1).

Other Positive Elements

Despite her inexperience, Tami shows the moxie needed to pilot the boat and survive. There’s little talk about spiritual matters, although in referencing a specific flower she tells Richard that “God put these on earth to mask the smell” of trash.  

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Tami smokes. We also see she and Richard drink wine. We hear her throw up (We see only a glimpse of it). We learn that Richard’s mom committed suicide when he was seven.

Life Lessons

Adrift delivers lessons on the will to survive, determination and human ingenuity.

“We can do this!” she says at the beginning, not knowing what to expect next.

Also, Tami sees purpose in the wreck – even going so far as to say she doesn’t regret it happening. Adrift isn’t a Christian movie, but finding the good in the bad (Romans 8:28) has its foundation in Scripture.


Tami Oldham isn’t the first person to float through her 20s, searching for what’s important in life. She simply learned the lesson in a unique way.

At the beginning of the film she lives life with abandon and risk, seemingly requiring a constant adrenaline rush to live. Sure, Tahiti is fine, but she wants to get to the next stop and the next island. After she jumps off a dangerous cliff, Richard tells her, “I’ve never met anyone like you.”

She wanted to sail the world, but it took her being stranded at sea for 40-plus days to appreciate the simple things in life: water, food and family. Oh yeah, and peanut butter.

The movie also includes a not-so-subtle message about the need for a good home life. Neither Tami nor Richard had a normal childhood. Tami’s mom took her to a bar at age 16. Richard’s mother killed herself. Were Tami and Richard sailing the world to escape their sad and abnormal upbringing? The movie certainly implies that.

What Works

The movie’s use of flashbacks to tell the story of Tami and Richard. Instead of telling the story chronologically, the movie tells us about them little by little, through flashbacks.

Also, the makeup department deserves an award. Actress Shailene Woodley really did look like she’d been at sea for 41 days.

What Doesn’t

The ending. I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t crazy about it, either. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Why do you think Tami wanted to sail the world instead of settling down at home?
  2. What did Tami discover about life during her time at sea?
  3. Why do you think Tami said she didn’t regret meeting Richard?  
  4. What did you think about the ending?

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for injury images, peril, language, brief drug use, partial nudity and thematic elements.

TEXAN Correspondent
Michael Foust
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