The Icelandic kayaker Veiga Gretarsdottir has always gone against the current. In a literal sense, she attempted and succeeded in a feat that had never been done before: circumnavigating the 2,000 kilometer distance of Iceland counterclockwise on kayak. Gretarsdottir, now in her mid-40s, has also pushed upstream in her personal life; she is transgender and received transition surgery at 38. Much like this obvious metaphor — which the film gleefully underlines — Oskar Pall Sveinsson’s “Against the Current” feels cliché even with an intriguing subject.
The documentary follows Gretarsdottir on her 103-day journey, as she traverses the tides, while also dealing with hormone injections, diet maintenance and decades of repressed self-expression. The film — which takes a rather ordinary approach to an extraordinary story — also includes scenic shots of Icelandic nature and talking-head interviews with Gretarsdottir’s parents, brother and ex-wife, with whom she shares a young daughter. These interviews become repetitive sound bites, and are often uncomfortable when family members misgender Gretarsdottir.
It’s not difficult to be moved and impressed by Gretarsdottir’s life story, especially when she details the secrecy of her struggles, but the story falls short in tying these emotional threads with her athletic accomplishments in an eloquent manner. Transgender athletes have been a focus of discussion in the news as of late, and it feels like a greatly missed opportunity for this film to not attempt to position Gretarsdottir within this larger conversation. The doc briefly introduces news clippings about violence against transgender people, but it remains surface-level on that topic, too. Unlike its subject, “Against the Current” rarely pushes against convention.
Against the Current
Not rated. In Icelandic, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. In theaters.