Review by Sean Boelman
Movies about inspiring true stories tend to have pretty low ceilings, but also tend not to disappoint frequently. Sarah Spillane’s True Spirit, a sailing adventure film inspired by an extraordinary young lady whose story you may not have heard, is typically crowd-pleasing, but also typically typical.
The movie tells the true story of Jessica Watson, an Australian teenager who made history by becoming the youngest person to ever sail solo, non-stop around the world. It’s a pretty conventional sports biopic, but Watson’s story is so incredible that it manages to be compelling nonetheless.
The film’s message, while undoubtedly heartwarming, can start to feel a bit shallow at times. For example, a significant amount of conflict in the movie comes from Watson’s critics saying that she’s too young and inexperienced to complete this momentous undertaking. While the fact that she doesn’t let naysayers stop her is certainly inspiring, it starts to feel like somewhat vague “girl power” at a certain point.
The film’s exploration of Williams’s relationship with her family is also somewhat shallow. The movie attempts to use her bond with her siblings as an element of characterization, but the siblings are so underwritten that it is ineffective. One of her sisters wishes to follow in her footsteps, but this subplot is thoroughly underdeveloped.
Young actress Teagan Croft gives a performance that’s very charming. It’s surprising that she didn’t accidentally take the role overboard when the character was spiraling during isolation, but impressive nonetheless. The supporting cast features some recognizable names — like Cliff Curtis and Anna Paquin — but they aren’t given very large or meaty roles, likely owing to the budget.
The budget also shows itself in the film’s production values, which are a tad on the rough side at times. During the at-sea action sequences, the use of CGI really draws the viewer out of the suspense. Obviously, a lot of what happened could not have been recreated safely, but even the waves look pretty fake.
That said, there’s an undeniable level of charm that shines through this movie despite all of its flaws. The predictability and occasionally made-for-TV qualities are far outweighed by Spillane’s keen sense of what makes a crowd-pleaser. Viewers will certainly be along for the ride, rooting for Watson to succeed.
True Spirit might be conventional, but it lands in that precise sweet spot of sentimentality that it’s hard to dislike. Even if it’s a film that feels like it was made to disappear in the annals of the Netflix library, it’s kind-of exactly what one would hope for from streaming content.
True Spirit is now streaming on Netflix.