In the true spirit of movies based on real-life stories, Netflix brings the story of Jessica Watson to the streaming service. A story about patience, resistance, and understanding. True life stories can often be as inspirational as they can also be sad and grim. In this case, we are talking about one of the most incredible feats ever achieved by any person in history. So the movie stands perfectly fine among the Netflix catalog as one of those movies that can be watched but does not really say anything other than what it preaches on the surface level.
True Spirit is a film directed by Sarah Spillane, and it is based on the true life story of Jessica Watson. The movie introduces us to a 16-year-old teen from Australia whose dream was to sail around the world after having read a book about someone who had already done it. The movie then shows Jessica, a young kid, as she develops her dream and then later in life as she executes it. The movie stars Anna Paquin, Cliff Curtis, Teagan Croft, and Josh Lawson.
For all intents and purposes, True Spirit feels like one of those movies that totally know what it is about and knows precisely what it is meant to be. The movie has no higher aspirations; because of this, it feels like something anyone can watch. It might not be something everyone is going to engage with, but at least, for those who don’t know the story of Jess, it will be an exciting and inspirational watch. For everyone else, this might not be the best thing to spend 90 minutes on.
The Netflix formula is more than apparent in the production of this film. There is a Hallmark TV movie quality to everything, from the cinematography to the production design, and the lighting. It is so strange and fascinating that as Netflix started developing more and more original films, most of them just started looking all the same. Something that is happening quite a lot in media nowadays after most studios have consolidated content under their own banners, which means they are basically always using the same group of creatives. It happens with Netflix, but also with HBO and such.
So, True Spirit is not a showpiece on any level. Visually, the film feels like a TV movie, which it is, and it feels like everything is being overlapped for some reason. There are also many instances where there are visual inconsistencies between shots. The movie was apparently shot in Australia, where most of the action sets in, but there are moments where the green screen is explicit in scenes that should take place in that location. Meanwhile, the movie also uses the same trick with Jess and her boat, but there is way more justification.
The visual effects are not significant, though. Many of the compositions feel off, and the guilty, like always, is the lighting. When you have a subject that is wholly lit in an environment where the lighting is clearly uneven, your subject will stand out. It will be hard to imagine it as being part of the same plane of reality. Nevertheless, set your mind and understand that this is not a big-budget production and that they are doing much better than the average of movies that get released each day. These visual inconsistencies shouldn’t be much of a problem.
When it comes to the story, it is all very predictable. The set of characters we are introduced to is pretty superficial, and they play their part in the story easily, but there is not much to them, which hurts the movie the most. Jessica is our protagonist, and we understand that she wants to do this, but there is absolutely no further exploration into the subject other than, well, this is her dream, and we should allow it. It is a nice sentiment, but it is also like a throwaway excuse to never get close to our main character. By the movie’s end, it is hard to say that we know her.
Teagan Croft does an excellent job in the role of Jessica, but she has very little to work with. The movie presents Jessica as a very single-minded person. She has qualities that all should appreciate, but at the same time, there is nothing more to her than what we are presented with. So, it is hard to keep our interest because what is shown at the movie’s start is exactly the same as in the end. Jessica might have the chance to achieve her dreams, but we don’t know why.
In the end, True Spirit is a serviceable movie that follows the trend of movies that Netflix releases each week. Most of them are genuinely forgettable but are a good way to spend your time if you really need something to watch. This could have been a movie like All Is Lost, in terms of exploring Jessica as a character and what makes her tick, but instead, it is just a recreation of the wonderful event that transformed the real Jessica into a legend.