Full disclosure: uplifting sports movies live rent-free in my brain. From Rudy to Seabiscuit and even Miracle, they know how to sock me right in the “feels.” To make matters worse, I am a shameless ugly crier when the stakes are high (even when you know the ending). In fact, there’s nothing quite as cathartic as a good happy cry in a movie. With that, Young Woman and the Sea hits theaters this week and looks to be giving all the rousing, sporty goodness. Will the period drama soar across the finish line? Or will it flounder and fail? Read on.

Young Woman and the Sea

Young Woman and the Sea follows Trudy Ederle (Daisy Ridley), a young woman coming of age in Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century. After miraculously beating the measles, she falls in love with swimming. Before long, she’s smashing world records, becoming one of the first women to swim in the Olympics, and soon sets her sights on swimming the English Channel. Christopher Eccleston, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Kim Bodnia, Jeanette Hain and Sian Clifford co-star in the movie. Joachim Rønning directs Young Woman and the Sea from a script by Jeff Nathanson. 

Jeanette Hain, Daisy Ridley and Kim Bosnia celebrate in the darkness by the light of a burning fire.

(L-R): Jeanette Hain as Gertrud Ederle, Daisy Ridley as Trudy Ederle, and Kim Bodnia as Henry Ederle in Disney’s live-action YOUNG WOMAN AND THE SEA. Photo by Vladisav Lepoev. © 2024 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Diving right in, Young Woman and the Sea feels immediately familiar. This is especially true for those who remember the early 1990s and Disney movies like Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, Iron Will, and Newsies. Now, don’t take this as hostile as it might sound, but Young Woman and the Sea feels a bit like a relic from this Disney era, and it works oh so well. 

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Daisy Ridley 

This movie feels tailor-made for Daisy Ridley, who boards the film not only as Ederle but also as an executive producer. She hones in on this character, who always finds herself the underdog. Ridley herself continues to fight her own underdog status in the wake of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. She’s talked about the stress and difficulty in finding work after leading the famous franchise. Truthfully, she hasn’t been on our screens nearly enough. However, it’s heartening to see that Ridley hasn’t given up almost five years later. 

Trudy doesn’t give up, either. Ridley brings heart and passion to the role, making it easy to root for Ederle. She rarely gets a break. She’s sidelined as a child due to her ill health, and even as she fights through her famous swim, the hits just keep on coming. Ridley’s strength in this part is beautiful to watch, and the heart she brings is vital to the narrative’s success.  

Jeanette Hain and Daisy Ridley hug as a firework lights up the night sky behind them.

(L-R): Jeanette Hain as Gertrud Ederle and Daisy Ridley as Trudy Ederle in Disney’s live-action YOUNG WOMAN AND THE SEA. Photo by Vladisav Lepoev. © 2024 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Rest of the Cast

While Ridley’s performance is vital to capturing the narrative’s heart, she’s not alone in this talented cast. Ridley partners beautifully with Bodnia and Hain as her parents. There’s a heartfelt chemistry between the actors. This family loves each other, and it shines through.  

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The film left this critic with one substantial qualm in the grand scheme of things. It’s difficult to waste Christopher Eccleston. However, this film manages to do just that. 

Ultimately, this seems largely due to some structural issues in the middle of the film. Eccleston dives into his role as Trudy’s trainer. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, the narrative can’t seem to wrap its head around this complex character. In Eccleston’s hands, Jabez Wolffe is equal parts fragile and villainous. He makes some truly baffling choices, and audiences are left wondering why. 

Daisy Ridley wears a swim cap and walks towards the ocean.

Daisy Ridley as Trudy Ederle in Disney’s live-action YOUNG WOMAN AND THE SEA. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2024 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Speeding Through the Middle

It feels strange that the film seems more interested in speeding through this middle portion and, at the same time, leaves Eccleston out to dry. Trudy’s first swim is less of a plot beat to be explored. Rather, it’s treated as a barrier to the climactic sequence. Since the second act features some of the more over-the-top events in a fairly grounded film, it leaves the section feeling like a head-scratcher.  

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At the same time, Rønning crafts an easy pace and beautiful set design to ground this film in its period setting. Young Woman and the Sea does the seemingly impossible. It juggles its early 20th-century setting and crafts a believable world without being weighed down by clunky computer graphics. The reliance on sets, practical locations and careful set design feels almost stately. This is an old-school Disney period piece at its most beautiful.  

A Pleasant Surprise 

When all is said and done, Young Woman and the Sea was a pleasant surprise. This period sports drama finds magic and heart buried deep in this tried-and-true formula. Solid casting holds the picture together, elevating it to a new level. This is a beautifully uplifiting and emotional story, and a definite summer must-see for the family. 

Young Woman and the Sea is now in theaters nationwide. 

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