Coming so soon after the release of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Maidentrip offers a much-needed riposte to Ben Stiller’s glorified vanity project. Granted, there’s certainly a level of ego that goes into the sheer act of sailing around the world solo—especially if, like Laura Dekker when she sets out on her trip, you’re only 14 years old. And yes, there’s already some narcissism built into the fact that much of the footage in Maidentrip was shot by Dekker herself, with her frequently addressing the camera and recounting her experiences, observations, and emotions. But Jillian Schlesinger’s film thankfully uses Laura’s astonishing two-year feat to tap into more universal desires: to live one’s life to the fullest, to explore this great wide world around us, to discover the things that inspire the greatest passion in us.
Laura experiences all of this on her circumnavigational journey, but she didn’t exactly set out to “find herself”—or, if she was intending to find herself, she didn’t realize it at the beginning. As Laura tells it, the trip started simply from an inchoate desire borne not only from boredom with life in Holland, but a love of sailing that developed in her earliest years, living on a boat with her parents in New Zealand before they moved inland. With a love of sailing came a desire to see the world, and in the early stages of her voyage, that’s exactly what she does: stopping to explore various destinations (the Canary and Galapagos Islands, French Polynesia, and more) and befriending locals and fellow travelers along the way.
The longer she sails, however, the more she begins to embrace the introspective solitude of simply being out in the open sea, with none of the modern-day technological creature comforts at her disposal—to the point that she even expresses open hostility at a journalist who badgers her about her interest in becoming the youngest person to sail around the world, despite Laura’s repeated claims that she was never interested in breaking records. And in fact, one of the most surprising things about Maidentrip lies in her professed disinterest in that kind of glory. When her trek comes to a close and she’s greeted with a hero’s welcome, she admits that she’s tempted to simply sail right past them all and keep on going.
Maidentrip, then, is not just the chronicle of a stunning feat, but a coming-of-age journey of self-realization, made immensely more involving by virtue of being seen through Laura’s first-person perspective, experiencing personal revelations in the moment with the same emotional immediacy with which she herself makes them. If anything, Schlesinger’s film might have even more effective if longer; at its presently brisk 81-minute running time, there’s a sense of a bunch of “eureka” moments whizzing past us rather than being allowed to fully sink in. Nevertheless, by the end of this film, the sense of inspiration this story exudes feels genuinely hard-earned, with a heartening emphasis more on personal triumph than on public glory.