Directed by Anthony Chen
Written by Susannah Farrell, Alexander Maksik
Starring Cynthia Erivo, Alia Shawkat
Release Date February 9th, 2024
Published February 12th, 2024
Drift stars Cynthia Erivo as Jacqueline, an African woman struggling to get by on the streets of Greece. We meet Jacqueline as she's struggling to find a place to stay and stay safe for a night. She has a small bag and the clothes on her back. She has no money and only finds a brief refuge as she sleeps for a night in a cave on the beach. Washing her clothes in the ocean, she's a mystery, we don't know why she's here or where she intended to be.
Struggling for money or food, Jacqueline takes to offering foot massages to tourists on the beach. This gets her a couple of bucks to get a sandwich that may be her only meal for a day or so. Meanwhile, an African man keeps popping up, calling her sister, and claiming he wants to help her. Is he for real? Is he trouble? We will never know as Jacqueline manages to escape him twice before we can see what his motives are.
Eventually, Jacqueline's search for a safe spot to hide lands her at some ruins. Here, she meets a kindly tour guide named Callie (Alia Shawkat). Callie is an American, very forthcoming about herself. She reveals that she moved to Greece with a boyfriend after getting pregnant and seems to indicate that she became stuck in Greece herself after losing the baby and her husband left. Now alone, she leads tours to get by while trying to decide her next move.
There appears to be chemistry between the two women. This is further underpinned by flashbacks revealing that Jacqueline was in a relationship with a woman when she was living in Britain. Eventually, we will learn that before ending up in Greece, Jacqueline had returned home to Africa where her family was caught up in an uprising. And from that, Jacqueline somehow fled to Greece and I can't really spoil anything here because Drift never circles around to explaining any further.
Instead, we watch a fiercely independent woman and deeply traumatized woman turn away help, suspicious or otherwise, on a regular basis. The film wants to be about the trauma that would cause someone to become so inward searching that they reject all attempts at kindness, suspicious or otherwise, but the point is far too vague and clouded in mystery. There are firm answers as to what happened to Jacqueline's family and where the woman she dreamed of spending her life with ended up, but the film backs away from trying to explain why Jacqueline won't reach out to people who care for her.
And then there is her growing relationship with Callie which is tested by Jacqueline's fierce protection of herself. It's a strong character choice by Erivo, she's underlining the immense trauma of her character well but unless a movie establishes that we are on an inward journey, a character study, this repetition of scenes of Erivo lashing out at those who try to help or even those she assumes are predatory, not without reason, it's an unsatisfying character journey. The story doesn't feel like it is progressing and since this isn't an experimental character piece, it's a conventional dramatic narrative, Drift winds up in a place of indifference rather than catharsis.
The rest of Drift is far too conventional for Erivo's deeply inward looking performance. There needed to be a stylistic expansion on her inner world beyond the flashbacks to the trauma. At the very least, the movie could tell us why she came to Greece but no, that answer does not arrive, even as the answer feels like something that the movie is building toward. If the movie ended by dramatically revealing why and how Jacqueline ended up in Greece, that would provide something tangible and satisfying about the narrative and leaving that out of the narrative just makes the whole experience of Drift unsatisfying.
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