I don’t like Blake Lively. I never have. As a long-time Gossip Girl fan, I was always #TeamBlair because duh, but also, I was always convinced that Lively is actually what Serena Van Der Woodsen would be like IRL. So, the prospect of seeing her be terrorized by a shark in The Shallows was deeply appealing, especially after five minutes in, when Lively’s character is immediately established as an idiot white tourist, flipping through her Instagram account and speaking horrible Spanish.
Other than Gossip Girl, Lively’s lackluster resume (aside from the very important The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants films) isn’t a great argument for her acting skills, from the dull stoner threesome crime drama Savages to her merely ornamental lead role in The Age of Adaline. Add in her inability to really parse out her thoughts before she speaks to the press or on social media, or that she created an entire lifestyle brand based on the antebellum South, and you arrive at the conclusion that Lively’s stardom really rests on that beautiful, golden-tressed head of hers.
Which, rather surprisingly, makes The Shallows (out today) the perfect vehicle for her. Lively stars as Nancy, a former medical student (lmao) and a surfer, who goes to an isolated beach because her dead mother surfed there once. While she’s out there catching some totally tubular waves, she befriends a couple of local surfers to whom she can prove that she actually can surf. They're the only humans she interacts with in the movie. Rather formulaically, once her two new friends leave the beach, Nancy’s quest to catch a great wave in honor of her mother puts her in danger—she’s attacked by a shark. For the remainder of the rest of the movie's perfectly timed 87 minutes, Nancy’s only interactions are with the shark that gnaws into her leg and an injured bird (giving an iconic performance) who keeps her company and mildly sane while she tries to figure out how to not die and make it home in one, only mildly shark-mangled piece.
Generally, a one-woman (or man) show is pretty hard to pull off—to be able to command the screen, look great, and create a tense compelling environment—but Lively, despite the obvious corniness baked into The Shallows, actually does it.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra makes Lively look great throughout the film, bathing her in sunlight from every possible angle (including many that are wayyyyy pornier than Lively or any actress in Hollywood deserves). And Lively commits to Nancy’s eventual deterioration post-shark bite, her body sunburnt and chapped, gangrene inching up her legs. What’s more remarkable than her physical transformation is her commitment to making Nancy’s terror over getting eaten by a shark palpable. She spends the majority of the movie in utter pain, using her med school knowledge to sew up her wounds in with an earring and a sharp necklace. She schemes and plots to try to beat the shark and the tide, both things that are fairly out of her control.
If you were to call The Shallows Blake Lively’s The Revenant, you wouldn’t be wrong. And that’s why The Shallows is perfect for her—there’s no one else there. Not only is she the star of the film, she's basically its only actor. As one of the 13 people who saw Age of Adaline and actually enjoyed it, I thought that Lively actually semi-held her own while looking magnificent. But, once she was put in a scene with a co-star—Ellen Burstyn, that guy who played young Harrison Ford, the actual Harrison Ford—she was decisively outshone. The Shallows solves that conundrum.
The cornball drama of Gossip Girl plus the man vs. nature survival plot of The Revenant—apparently that's a winning combination for Lively, who carries The Shallows more effortlessly than ever expected. What’s more, that balance takes a genre that can be so serious (see the aforementioned The Revenant) and makes it into a compulsively watchable and pretty perfect summer blockbuster.
Honestly, I don’t know if The Shallows means Lively is a better actress than I’d previously thought, although Woody Allen’s Café Society (which I won’t be seeing any time soon) could weight the scales even more. I do think that it means that maybe Lively’s finally found her lane. Looking forward to seeing Blake Lively in 2018’s The Shallows 2: Revenge of the Birds!