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True Spirit Movie Review: Teagan Croft shines in this predictably feel-good biopic- Cinema express

True Spirit Movie Review: Teagan Croft shines in this predictably feel-good biopic

Despite many predictable elements, the film’s inspiring message of following your dreams against all odds comes through

Published: 04th February 2023

True Spirit is adapted from Jessica Watson’s memoir of the same name and details the exploits of the Australian teenager who became the youngest person to sail by herself, non-stop and unassisted around the globe. Her awe-inspiring 210-day journey across the high seas – eerie calm, high winds, choppy waters and devastating storms alike – made her into a hero in her home country and abroad. Sarah Spillane’s film, however, has the limitations of your standard sports biopic. Jessica’s story is best suited to a documentary format, something that has been done, already. What does impress is Teagan Croft’s mature all-round performance as the sixteen-year-old willing to risk everything to achieve her dream. Apart from the mandatory quota, True Spirit doesn’t go down the road of out-and-out sentimentality. There are practicalities to be considered before the hyperbole – the overall health of the boat, the physical, emotional and psychological readiness of its single-occupant sailor, essential supplies, communications. The dynamic between Jessica, a young adult brimming with optimism, and her grumpy coach, Ben Bryant (Cliff Curtis), with a sketchy past in the sport, is a highlight of the film. The former is willing to take calculated gambles while the latter is quick to remind her, from experience, that there is a fine line between courage and cavalier. Despite their opposing personas, they work well as a team, and Bryant is instrumental in convincing her parents.

Director: Sarah Spillane

Cast: Teagan Croft, Cliff Curtis, Anna Paquin, Josh Lawson, Alyla Browne

Streaming On: Netflix

Certain quarters in Australia welcomed Jessica’s decision to circumnavigate the globe and others, especially the media, called into question her guardians’ poor judgement in the matter. What mother and father in their right mind would allow their child to take on a voyage that could turn out to be fatal in the end? A minor collision with a cargo vessel on a test run in 2009 made the din even louder. The Australian Government was in talks to make a ruling disallowing her from sailing. And yet, the relatively inexperienced sailor set out with her boat, Ella’s Pink Lady. A dedicated team of an anxious coach, parents and siblings was close at hand, dogging her every move and in constant touch via radio.

Though the film attempts not to overdo the awe-inspiring moments, it has several fantastical sequences that could have been toned down a bit to appear more realistic. It may follow fact but depicting reality in that particular moment in time without a hint of exaggeration is the challenge. The scene with Jessica’s boat submerged upside down under several feet of water during a raging storm is one such instance. It’s made to look as if divine intervention played a huge part in the fate of her survival. Whether that was truly the case is debatable, at best. That being said, such a scene works for a target audience of young kids looking for the inspirational push to follow their hearts through and through. Familial support is another major motif that runs through the narrative. She has a coach who knows the ins and outs of sailing and the sea, but she needs her folks to be on board with her plans and decisions. The acting is quite believable for the most part, with a young Croft in the proverbial driver’s seat. She balances Jessica’s precociousness and daring with her idealistic bent of mind exceedingly well.

There is perhaps not enough that touches upon Jessica’s formative years in the Sunshine Coast. Cursory details are presented about her family’s natural affinity for the sand and the waves, but her true motivations to sail and how she got into it aren’t as revealing as they ought to have been. Even the manner in which young Jessica convinces Ben Bryant to train her (she just pesters him into relenting) could have been portrayed better. In a technical sense, True Spirit outdoes itself, capturing the splendour and terror that is the high sea. The calm, the storm, the blustery wind, the angry tide and the expansive sky – with the lead character’s tiny pink boat plodding along a vast sheet of open water – is something to behold.

Jessica falls into a deep depression when the wind stops for several days during her expedition. She attempts to blog through that lull and struggles, receiving some encouraging words from her mother. While predictable, this is a wholesome part of the film one may relate to (it can’t all be adrenaline-inducing daredevilry against the raging elements). The teenager admits to feeling a sense of total isolation and a lack of will to carry on. She states that being authentic to yourself through thick and thin is where the real learning is. We sure can get behind that message!

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