On May 15, 2010, 16-year-old Jessica Watson completed a 210-day nonstop solo voyage around the world, making her the youngest person to do so. Sarah Spillane’s (“Around the Block”) biopic “True Spirit” documents Watson’s (Teagan Croft, “Science Fiction Volume One: The Osiris Child”) journey as she pushes her limits and discovers how far she is willing to go to achieve her dreams. The movie felt geared toward a younger audience because the main theme of following your dreams is nothing unique and is not deeply explored. Regardless, Watson’s sea of support is heartwarming and I could appreciate it despite the film’s juvenile feel. It reminded me of the American Girl Doll movies: a young girl pursuing her dreams, facing hardships and persisting with the support of loved ones.
There are two things this movie does well: storytelling and cinematography. Watson dreamt from a young age that she would be the youngest person to sail the world unassisted. The film includes flashbacks of a young, hopeful Watson informing all her loved ones that she would be the youngest person to make the voyage, which cascade into scenes of her sailing the ship, braving storms and soaking in the nautical scenery. The story unfolds naturally because of the cohesion between the time periods, and the flashbacks building up to her journey had me rooting for her success.
I didn’t expect to be emotionally impacted by scenes of Watson’s boat capsizing or her ready to give up, but the movie made me feel connected to her. Knowing her backstory increased my interest in her goal and her international support made me feel like a fan, following her journey in real-time. I cheered with them, I worried with them, I laughed with them. Watson kept up with news outlets all over the world with messages of people cheering her on and pushing her through hardships. The spirit of the movie was fulfilling — it was enriching to see so many people around the world supporting her, and it was a powerful way of bringing so many people of different backgrounds together rooting for the same goal.
The camera captured stunning, zoomed-out images of the ocean and highlighted the world’s beauty. There were many moments when I caught myself marveling at the night sky from the water, seeing sunsets overlooking the sea and watching as the camera panned out to colossal waves challenging Watson’s boat, “Pink.” I felt an urge to get off my couch and book a plane ticket to a remote island (and live out my “Banshees of Inisherin” fantasy).
While the fantasy was visually pleasing, it became shallow in combination with a soundtrack filled with trendy (but fun) pop songs like Colbie Caillat’s “Brighter Than the Sun” and Sheppard’s “Geronimo.” The rest of the music included upbeat, flute-like sounds that made me feel too old to be watching the movie. In all fairness, I would have loved this movie 10 years ago, and I’m sure many 9-year-olds do today. The music was trivial but fit the motivational, follow-your-dreams message.
Adding to the bubbly music, the film included forced dialogue that interrupted its emotional impact and made its message seem shallow. Touching moments of Watson’s vulnerability on the water were discredited by basic lines trying too hard to be trendy. Watson’s little sister (Vivien Turner, “How to Stay Married”) says scripted phrases like “as if.” I have never heard anyone say that, and I don’t think I ever will (other than Cher Horowitz in Clueless, but she can pull it off).
These elements diminish the chance for the film to be extremely complex and thought-provoking, but children aren’t looking for those factors while watching a movie, so it works. The theme of a young girl chasing her dreams makes the movie fit for adolescent girls, helping them realize they do not have to wait until they become adults to achieve remarkable feats. Another one of its main messages highlights the importance of family, determination and bringing people together. Even though this movie does not have a deep or revolutionary message, it is a sweet, inspirational story for the younger generation.
Disregarding the movie, I have to give props to the real Watson for spending over 200 days alone at sea at such a young age. The thought of spending that much time alone with nothing but my thoughts is scary, and her mental fortitude is outstanding. Watson wants people to know that it is “possible to be both vulnerable and tough at the same time.” Spillane included scenes of the real Watson at the end of the movie, which tied it together very nicely for a satisfying ending. It was fulfilling to see the movie scenes parallel to the actual event, to see the real Watson and her success after feeling like I got to know her. The deepest thing in this movie might be the ocean, but that’s okay. There is not much to complain about. It may not have dimension, but it has spirit.
Daily Arts Writer Zara Manna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.