- Release Date: 12 July 2918
- Rating: PG13
- Running Time: 97mins
- Genre: Comedy, Drama , Romance
- Directed By: Oliver Parker
- Starring: Charlotte Riley, Rupert Graves, Rob Brydon, Jim Carter, Adeel Akhtar, Thomas Turgoose, Jane Horrocks, Daniel Mays
“Swimming with Men” stars Rob Brydon as accountant Eric Scott anguishing through a mid-life crisis. He fends off his daily misery by regularly escaping to swim at a public pool. There he meets the “Swim Club”, a group of middle-aged male synchronised swimmers. They coerce him into joining, which reinvigorates Eric to find happiness and meaning again. Directed by Oliver Parker, will it make a splash at the box-office or end up face down in the shallow end?
Swimming with Men
Though comparably more in common with films like “The Full Monty”, in terms of production scale and a very British comedic tone. The film can also be considered as a sports movie, or more accurately the “underdog-sports-team-movie”. A subgenre which rose to prominence, with films like “The Bad News Bears” and “The Longest Yard”. However, and unfortunately so, movies of its ilk are now rife with formulaic story structure and character tropes, a la “Dodgeball: An Underdog Story”.
“Swimming with Men” also painfully sticks to the formula, from the obligatory training montage to peppered moments of forced camaraderie. Right down to the quintessential component of characters from various walks of life bonding over their differences. Most of the middle act is the usual sequences of them struggling to be a cohesive unit. And it wouldn’t be an “underdog-sports-team-movie” if it didn’t end with a large final event where they need to prove themselves.
Saying the premise isn’t original is the least of its problems, but what’s odd is that it’s based on actual events. The film is somewhat of an adaptation from the 2010 documentary “Men who Swim”. An account of Swedish middle-aged male synchronised swimmers, who triumphed in the unofficial world championships. The documentary was both humorous and touching, garnering favourable reviews. And as a nod to the source material, the Swedish team appear as themselves in “Swimming with Men” during the climactic final scene.
So instead of retelling a true story of individuals working together to compete in a traditionally female-dominated sports event. “Swimming with Men” is a repurposed light-hearted comedy about men trying to reclaim self-worth through synchronised swimming. I would’ve been more forgiving if only the story wasn’t so flimsy, it sincerely tries to create empathetic characters we want to root for. But it’s incessant need to laden itself with tropes and other ideas from better films, left me wishing it tried harder.
Comedian Rob Brydon is the defacto star of the film, due to his stronger name recognition no less. And he does his very best, considering a lot of the potential profits were riding on his shoulders. But he really needed to carry this film, especially in the more dramatic sides of his performance. He just doesn’t exude the ability to draw any real connection with his character’s flaws.
It’s a colourless portrayal of a man emasculated by not only his wife’s success but also his impertinent teenage son. Impelling his character to leave his family to bunker down in a hotel, while he continues sessions with the team. Then by the end of it all, we’re supposed to believe that he’s grown as a person. His eventual redemption essentially feels undeserved, though totally not the fault of the actor, Brydon really needed to exceed expectations with the material.
this painfully sticks to formula, from its obligatory training montage to peppered moments of bonding and forced camaraderie
But when he does shine is definitely when he gets to do what he does best. Brydon is a tenured comedian and when the film plays for laughs, it does so in high spirits. And that’s when it will most likely win over general audiences. The jokes aren’t clever and can get a little lost in the localisation; meaning there are varying accents at work here. But it’s that lowest common denominator style of comedy. With plenty of sight gags and tomfoolery abound, plus all that poolside awkwardness in the second act. The laughs oftentimes come cheap but will definitely elicit a few chuckles at least.
Off the deep end
Franky what could have helped was more time with the other teammates. Some of them were one-note gags, such as Silent Bob, the always mute member of the team. But there were hints of other dynamics between members that could’ve added to the story with more exploration. Such as the surrogate father-son relationship between elder member Ted and the young kleptomaniac Tom. Or the history hinted between Luke and Kurt, who previously in their lives worked together in a band.
The character I felt could have had the most potential was actually the coach Susan, played by Charlotte Riley. There was an interesting source of tension in the conflict of interest with her boyfriend, a member of a rival team. However, that got swept under the rug once she transforms into the exuberant coach stereotype. Worse is when she’s reconfigured as a love interest for team founder Luke. A plot point I personally felt was extremely unnecessary and obviously tacked on for the sake of having a romance element.
Overall “Swiming with Men” doesn’t punch above its weight but still stumbles to incite sympathy for its characters. But what it does have are genuinely funny moments when not referencing other movies. But the inability to do anything interesting with the genre makes this hard to recommend. If you must see a film about male synchronised swimmers, seek out the 2001 Japanese film “Waterboys”, or better yet the aforementioned “Men Who Swim”.
Swimming With Men Official Trailer
Special thanks to our friends at Shaw Singapore for providing us with the preview tickets for this review.