SWIMMING WITH MEN

★★

SYNC OR SWIM?

THEATRICAL REVIEW
By Charlie David Page
13th March 2019

We all feel a little like a fish out of water at times - it’s part of human nature. But what if you discovered that you were in your element when you were synchronised swimming? That’s the premise of the British comedy ‘Swimming with Men’, which offers great potential for comedic and dramatic aspects - but it seems the waves are a little choppier than you might expect.

Eric (Rob Brydon, ‘The Trip’ series) is suffering from a mid-life crisis: his accounting job isn’t fulfilling him the way that it used to, and he suspects his wife Heather (Jane Horrocks, Bubbles from ‘Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie’ and the TV series) is having an affair with one of her work colleagues. He confronts her about it and leaves their family home, and finds the only way to cope is diving below his local pool’s surface and blocking out the world around him. There, he meets a troupe of middle-aged male synchronised swimmers and unwittingly joins them. They decide to compete at the Unofficial Male Sync-Swimming World Championships - but can they pull it off against the international professionals when they only have a month to train?

'SWIMMING WITH MEN' TRAILER

Sounds like laughs aplenty, right? In reality, they’re fairly few and far between. There’s a certain humour to watching these overweight, hairy, middle-aged men flounder around in the pool, but there isn’t much in terms of laugh-out-loud comedy - which is a shame, because there’s opportunity for it. Oddly, though, there isn’t too much seriousness to the film either; it’s not as though the emotional gravitas dominates the humour. Granted, the film is generally lighthearted, but we instead wander from one scenario to another without any real synergy.

The story’s other big letdown is its out-of-date attitudes. At a time when cinema is moving away from male-driven stories, this one belly-flops right into the arena. The central eight men in the synchronised swimming team do have a little diversity in regards to age, race, social class and sexuality, but any female characters are well on the outskirts of their lives, including Eric’s wife Heather and charismatic swim coach Susan (Charlotte Riley). At the end of the day, this is the story of a middle-class white man with fears of getting older.

The story’s other big letdown is its out-of-date attitudes. At a time when cinema is moving away from male-driven stories, this one belly-flops right into the arena.

Which is all a shame, because it's an ensemble cast that deserves better. I’ve always enjoyed Rob Brydon’s dry style of humour, and it does get to shine through occasionally, but it’s definitely dulled by the limited material. Other British names like Rupert Graves and Jim Carter struggle to stay afloat as they battle for screen time. Ultimately, nobody shines through because so many of the key scenes feature the whole team in very rowdy, rough scenarios.

On the upside, direction from Oliver Parker (‘Dorian Gray’, ‘Hellraiser’) is somewhat refreshing, particularly the underwater shots. Utilising both close-ups and extreme wide shots, plus some fascinating upside-down shots of the synchronised swimming, it’s refreshing to see an environment that’s usually drab, dark and dull appear colourful and, at times, even beautiful.

The emphasis on teamwork, trying something new, and ignoring what other people think are great messages, but not enough to save this sinking ship. The biggest sin is that ‘Swimming with Men’ simply offers nothing original. The concept of male synchronised swimming is cute, but not enough to blow you out of the water. Missing some real potential, this film comes off as a little wet behind the ears.

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