Cynthia Erivo Strengthens A Depthless, Unengaging Refugee Drama
Feb 12, 2024
Drift falls short in exploring the full breadth of Jacqueline’s desperate situation as a Liberian refugee in Greece.
The film lacks insight into Jacqueline’s character and fails to fully develop its storyline.
The dynamic between Jacqueline and Callie is a strength of the film, showcasing Cynthia Erivo’s powerful performance.
Jacqueline (Cynthia Erivo) wanders the beaches of Greece alone every day in Anthony Chen’s Drift. Her eyes are distant, and there’s a deep pain swimming in them, but Jacqueline goes about her day in the hopes that she will at least be able to buy some food and water to sustain her for the coming days. There’s an immediacy to her quiet actions, but a sense of hopelessness too, as she dodges prying police officers asking for an acquaintance’s passport.
Drift is a 2023 drama movie by director Anthony Chen that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. Jacqueline, a Liberian refugee, escapes her home country to a remote Greek Island, hoping for a better life. The transition, as challenging as it is, is smoothed over by a burgeoning friendship with an American tour guide.ProsCynthia Erivo gives emotional insight into her characterErivo & Alia Shawkat elevate the script ConsDrift isn’t compellingThere are large gaps in the storytellingThere is general lack of depthThe story meanders and isn’t engaging
Drift’s Harrowing Storyline Falls Short
It’s in this very desperate situation that we enter Jacqueline’s world. And while Drift, written by Susanne Farrell and Alexander Maksik (the author of the novel it’s based on), boasts a lovely, layered performance by Erivo, and has moments of tenderness shadowed by Jacqueline’s distress, the narrative lulls, falling short of exploring the full breadth of the situation beyond the surface. It’s at times quiet and contemplative as we watch Jacqueline move from one place to another, keeping her head down day in and day out without any help, invisible but not.
Drift doesn’t rise to its potential because it’s far too underdeveloped and empty. Jacqueline could have been one of a multitude of displaced people. Beyond several harrowing flashbacks — ones that give us a brief overview as to why she fled Liberia after visiting her family — the film doesn’t give us much insight into who Jacqueline is as a person or the details of her situation.
Chen isn’t the first to explore the titular feeling of being adrift in a country that isn’t home, nor in one that is particularly kind to refugees. The moving film Flee, Limbo, and The Swimmers are among several that have done it better. There is specificity in these films, whereas it’s mostly lacking in Drift. The film begins to flourish when Jacqueline meets Callie (Alia Shawkat), but there is still a wall that refuses to go down.
There is potential here, but the feature doesn’t dig any deeper than it has to, leaving us drifting along with Jacqueline without anything to latch onto to keep us afloat.
Perhaps it’s because Jacqueline has very little dialogue, and Erivo must convey the variety of emotions beneath the surface with only her facial expressions and body language. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does reflect Drift’s tendency to keep everything inward, whereas it would have benefited from Jacqueline interacting more with others. Otherwise, it simply feels aimless.
Cynthia Erivo Makes The Most Of Her Portrayal
To that end, Erivo is left to dig out the emotional depth of her character when the dialogue and storytelling fails Jacqueline. And the actress does it so well, offering us a glimpse into how Jacqueline is coping when something so horrific has happened to her family. The past follows her around as she walks the streets of Greece, and her eyes are distant, her body folded inward. She hasn’t had time to heal, but meeting Callie helps her begin to do that.
Their dynamic is ultimately a strength of Drift. The film doesn’t come to life until then, as though Jacqueline was seeking comfort and empathy, and knew that Callie could provide some relief that had previously been denied her. Interacting with Callie builds up to a full outpouring of feeling, and the emotional dam has been broken, rushing forward with a ferocity that was previously held back.
It’s also in these moments that Erivo is able to fully showcase the intensity of Jacqueline’s emotions, and Shawkat, though in a more limited capacity, nicely captures Callie’s support and allows Jacqueline to simply be while realizing there isn’t much she can physically do for her but let her feel. Their performances alleviate Drift’s hollow story, and Erivo especially does a lot within the film’s limitations. But the feature doesn’t dig any deeper than it has to, leaving us drifting along with Jacqueline without anything to latch onto to keep us afloat.
is now playing in New York theaters, and will expand nationwide on February 23.
Drift (2023) Director Anthony Chen Cast Cynthia Erivo , Alia Shawkat , Ibrahima Ba , Honor Swinton Byrne , Zainab Jah , Suzy Bemba , Vincent Vermignon Runtime 93 Minutes Writers Susanne Farrell , Alexander Maksik Studio(s) Sunac Culture , Aim Media , Hope Street , Paradise City , Heretic , Fortyninesixty Films , ERT SA Distributor(s) United Talent Agency
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