Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Anthony Chen's slow-burn character study is essentially a showcase for its star Cynthia Erivo" | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Anthony Chen's slow-burn character study is essentially a showcase for its star Cynthia Erivo, who after scene stealing turns in the likes of Widows and Bad Times At The El Royale and her lead performance in Harriet, proves she can not only carry a film but lift it emotionally beyond the script.

Based on the book by Alexander Maksik and adapted by the author and Susanne Farrell for the screen, Erivo plays Jacqueline, a Liberian refugee, whose experience on a Greek holiday island is far from a sun-kissed getaway. A liminal space already, thanks to all those holidaymakers coming and going, she exists in an even more precarious state. In the here and now, she is on the fringes, stealing sugar packets to keep herself going and olive oil as a way to generate a bit of cash by offering tourists foot massages on the beach. But Jacqueline is also emotionally caught between the present and a traumatic past - viewed and pieced together in flashback.

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Her British accents speaks of the upper middle class, which adds more ambiguity to a situation which might be as much a self-imposed exile as one wrought by events - although like much in a film, which is sometimes to opaque for its own good, this is never spelled out.

It's just as well Erivo is so mesmerising as her performance is battling the slow pace of the film's first quarter. It's a relief then when, into this austere life, arrives American tour guide Callie (Alia Shawkat), her openness in stark contrast to Jacqueline's fearfulness. The spareness of what has gone before means these early encounters between the pair seem to crackle with even more energy as a result. Callie, we will learn, is adrift in her own way but her sunny nature is the perfect counterpoint for Jacqueline as the two begin to forge an unexpected friendship.

If flashbacks will gradually reveal the source of Jacqueline's trauma, the inevitability of what happens makes them feel rather perfunctory and they lack the fluidity and emotional immediacy of the story in Greece. It is in the here and now where Erivo's fragile and buttoned up performance is able to slowly unfold in the bright warmth of Callie's attitude, the physical movements of both stars as important as the script. Drift is not a film that suggests healing can arrive overnight, but the possibility of the postive remains tantalisingly within reach.

Reviewed on: 27 Mar 2024
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Refugee Jacqueline, alone and penniless on a Greek island embarks on a friendship with a tour guide.

Director: Anthony Chen

Writer: Susanne Farrell, Alexander Maksik, based on the novel by Alexander Maksik

Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Alia Shawkat, Ibrahima Ba, Honor Swinton Byrne, Zainab Jah, Suzy Bemba

Year: 2023

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France, UK, Greece

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