True Spirit (2023) Netflix Movie Review: Directed by Sarah Spillane, ‘True Spirit’ is based on the real-life adventures of Jessica Watson. At the age of 16, she became the youngest person to sail around the globe. Jessica had a dream before embarking on this exciting experience, and her parents’ unwavering support helped her to nurture it. So, despite being about an adventurous ride, this new Netflix drama largely becomes a warm, breezy, family-friendly movie geared to inspire girls like her all over the world.
Adapted from a book written by Jessica herself, True Spirit stars Teagan Croft in the lead role. Besides her, Cliff Curtis and Anna Paquin play central characters in the film, who are an integral part of Jessica’s journey. Anna Paquin plays Jessica’s mother, Julie, who introduced her to the story of another female traveler. Jessica, as a young and inquisitive child, was delighted to see a woman exploring the world on her own. The sense of thrill she got from only hearing about it made her determined to follow in her footsteps.
As a result, she started looking for the necessary things to achieve this feat. Even before her teenage years, she started figuring out how to accomplish it. She created a roadmap with all the logistics required to do so, including the financial means to make it happen. While her parents initially considered it a joke, they soon started to notice her deep resolve, which persuaded them to support her.
Julie became her emotional backbone throughout this journey, believing in Jessica’s strength and resilience. Her brothers and sisters also got excited seeing her deep interest in pursuing her goal. The film showcases her ambition, where strong support is the backbone of her triumph. However, before she started her journey across the globe, the locals were not as supportive as her parents. They doubted her capabilities largely because of her age. Even minor failures were perceived and displayed on a much larger scale.
The negative publicity of her setbacks became an obstacle in her journey, especially in an emotional context. Ben Bryant (played by Cliff Curtis), a fellow sailor, became her coach and champion in her pursuit. She stayed focused on her ambition and did not let minor distractions hinder her attention from her goal. He kept pushing her to the limits and became a voice of reason and a mentor for sailing. While her family provided her with emotional support, he became her friend, philosopher, and guide. Their mutual dependence yields a heartwarming relationship in the film.
We witness the challenges faced by Jessica when she had to battle the unpredictable changes in nature and make quick decisions that could determine her survival. Despite occasional contact with the family, she was still separated from them after having lived in their vicinity all her life. She had to fight loneliness and make decisions that adults often struggle with when she was barely in her mid-teens. Imagine you being in her shoes, needing to face all these adversities and keeping your sanity intact. That alone makes her achievement feel monumental.
Through this journey in the ocean, True Spirit gets a chance to present a rousing adventure drama. The cinematography is not unconventional in its storytelling approach. But it still is impactful thanks to the great support of editing. The reactions of her and the people back in her town make us feel the stakes of her situation. They make us feel the ups and downs of her journey in an affecting manner. Especially the performances by Anna Paquin and Cliff Curtis make us invested in their emotional battles.
Nevertheless, you cannot help but see it clearly geared toward being an inspirational tale. The emotional beats are tailor-made to make you feel something at the exact moments, which they have done in numerous American films of this kind. That makes the narrative almost feel like a product made for a market fit. Besides that, the structure of its narrative that portrays triumph over the odds is conventional to a fault. Despite the inspiring real-life tale, the movie only manages to present a surface-level exploration of its themes. None of the themes are fully realized, which leaves it a forgettable affair of sorts despite the emotional impact.