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In a brassy set piece from the 1952 classic “Singin’ in the Rain,” its star, Gene Kelly, impersonates a newbie hoofer seeking fame on the Great White Way. “Gotta dance!” he exclaims to anyone he meets. In “Young Woman and the Sea,” Trudy Ederle is fond of singing the 1921 hit “Ain’t We Got Fun.” First loudly, with a ukulele, to convince her early-20th-century immigrant dad to spring for swimming lessons; later, softly, to herself as she prepares to become the first woman to swim across the English Channel. It’s her way of proclaiming “Gotta swim!”

The real-life Gertrude Ederle was so utterly compelled that she put her hearing, already damaged by a childhood bout with the measles, at serious risk with her immersions. Based on a biography by Glenn Stout that contains some pretty provocative and reasonably well-supported theories about the ups and downs of her career, this Disney movie runs with those theories hard. Ederle, played by Daisy Ridley, runs up against not just the garden variety sexism of her time, but some male sponsors and coaches who actively sabotage her sporting efforts.

This is one of those movies that proves, when they’ve got a mind to, they can still make them like they used to. Which is to say, its production values are top-notch, the cast uniformly competent or better (Ridley is particularly winning), and the filmmaking language — the director here is Joachim Ronning, whose last at bat with Disney was the 2019 critical misfire “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” — is meticulously calculated to deliver a rousing climax and an appropriately heartwarming coda.

It’s also rather rich in cliché. When Trudy is tempted to give up her sport, three angelic little girls show up as if on cue and one tells her, “It’s because of you I was allowed to swim.”

Young Woman and the Sea
Rated PG for intense swimming maybe. Running time: 2 hours 9 minutes. In theaters.

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