“Swimming with men” (2018)
Running Time: 96 minutes
Written by: Aschlin Ditta
Directed by: Oliver Parker
Featuring: Rob Brydon, Jane Horrocks, Rupert Graves, Daniel Mays, Thomas Turgoose, Jim Carter, Adeel Akhtar and Charlotte Riley
Eric Scott:[Reading from the book of rules] “The first rule of swim club, don’t talk about swim club.”
It’s remarkable the seeming ease that the British Film Industry is able to produce great independent drama, comedies and horror movies each and every year. Not only that, but the talent on show always seems to be original as well as first class. What many of these English films have in common is that they are based around something unique or have some kind of gimmick, this new movie “Swimming with men” (2018) has both, it is a drama set around an amateur men’s synchronised swimming team who come together with different issues (mostly personal), ending up competing in a world cup of sorts where they all end up exceeding their own expectations, they were not high to begin with. However with most English movies of this ilk they normally follow very familiar A and B narratives where the main character is going through some life changing event, or has been through one, facing trauma, that is always on a large scale. Then there is a larger overarching narrative for the main cast that propels the plot and is broad in that it appeals to a larger general audience, i.e. it is normally pretty non offensive. “Swimming with men” really fits that bill with the main character seemingly having issues with his life and marriage who meets a synchronised swimming team who are missing a key part, which in turn is coincidental as they are all missing elements in their lives to make them complete. This really is a hackneyed plot device that is attempting to be a metaphor in the most obvious and clumsiest way possible, for these movies to break through they need to be original. Unfortunately much of this movie just does not work at all which is a real shame as I wanted to enjoy and like this film. However in saying that there are two great reasons to see this movie, the first is the cast, which is actually spectacular, it is stacked with great character actors, one wonders the reasons they were drawn to this movie as they are all too good for what ended up onscreen. The other reason to see the movie is the way the synchronised swimming is seen onscreen not only as a sport, but the way in which we move from scene to scene, there are some lovely interstitials (for want of a better term). Other than that this is a very hard sell as at times it moves slowly with an A story that seems to have been tacked on as an afterthought to beef up the plot much like other similarly themed movies, the one that comes to mind is “The Full Monty” (1997) that was about male strippers based around small town economic issues, however there it was presented in a much better, original and realistic way.
Directed by a somewhat veteran English director in Oliver Parker who arguably had his biggest success with his debut in 1995 when he directed the Shakespearean adaptation “Othello” (1995) featuring Kenneth Branagh and Laurence Fishburne, from there however his career has been mediocre and this new movie shows no real signs of improvement. Interestingly the movies he has directed have mostly made money which explains how he has been able to not only keep a career going but also cast some very experienced actors in all of his work. “Swimming with men” was based on a Swedish 2010 documentary and has been written by Aschlin Ditta who has very little experience in writing for the big screen with much of his work being restricted to television episodes which may explain how this movie has been constructed as well as the fairly standard framing device that has been used to make a movie about men’s synchronised swimming that does revolve around a pretty standard Hollywood three act structure straight from a textbook. If there had been some real thought about how to get the main character into the swimming part of the movie it would have been more enjoyable as well as having a more natural feel.
“Swimming with men” is based around accountant Eric, (Brydon), who seeks to win back his wife Heather (Horrocks), he stumbles upon a solution in the form of a male synchronised swimming team: Men Who Swim. Joining his local team, Eric finds brotherhood in this crew as they train for the world championships in Milan.
The film is led by comedian and character actor Rob Brydon who acquits himself well but his entire performance is limited by the script, he does extremely well in the water where it must have been a challenge to show yourself onscreen not only just in swimwear but also dancing in the water, him as well as the rest of the cast acquit themselves well in the water, not an easy thing to do. The rest of the cast is made up of great character actors from a variety of generations, but the standouts for me are the always-fantastic Jim Carter who over the past two decades has shined in almost all the roles he has played. In the relative new actors Daniel Mays, Thomas Turgoose and Adeel Akhtar bring their roles to life playin three very differntnt people who again know what movie they are in and adjust their performances accordingly. However my favorite performance is from Charlotte Riley as the teams somewhat coach and love interest for Rupert Graves which is a bit icky within the actual movie but both are so good I looked past that, however some people might not.
I would go so far as to say that the most entertaining as well as best crafted parts of “Swimming with men” are the swimming scenes as well as the underwater photography that is presented which is vitally important when the subject if the film revolves around all that action. There are some subtle variations of the swimming which is welcome when the actual arc of the main character played by Rob Brydon is so unsatisfying as well as actually extremely boring and a non event. The idea of a man going through some kind of mid life crisis as well as not trusting his wife seems so out of step with the times we are living as to be insulting to any possible audience. It also seems like his wife played by the excellent Jane Horrocks is written as a shrill character that is so unlikeable as to be a stereotype that the audience rallies against but there is actually no evidence to suggest she is anything but a working wife who has to take on the responsibility of both parents when her husband leaves for little or no reason. For me this is the portion of the film I enjoyed least but the other two aspects, the actors and the swimming do counter that quite well so I would recommend this as streaming watch as you may be disappointed if you venture out to a cinema to see it as even final scenes seem a bit forced as well.