Swimming With Men
Rob Brydon, Jim Carter, Adeel Akhtar, Rupert Graves, Charlotte Riley, Jane Horrocks
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Deep in mid-life crisis, vaguely unlikeable accountant Eric (Rob Brydon) walks out on his wife Heather (Jane Horrocks) when she is elected to the local council, primarily because he thinks she’s having an affair. At his local pool, he finds solace with a group of other mostly middle-aged men who have formed a synchronised swimming team. Eric uses his aquatic and maths skills to help the amateurs perform various moves and with the subsequent help of pool attendant Susan (Charlotte Riley), who happens to be a synchronised swimmer, the eight men decide to enter the championships in Milan.
The underwater scenes, and the depiction of the movements of the men in the swimming pool, are the film’s strong points, one sequence showing Eric sitting alone on the depths of the pool’s bottom suggests that deeper existential themes could be at play. However, any genuine reflection on middle-aged-men is rapidly dismissed from the narrative through an almost instant depiction of male bonding thanks to a brief comic reference to ‘Fight Club’ (one of their rules is “no one talks about Swim Club”). The film sketches the men through meagre backstories, but these are brief and offer little insight into ‘masculinity in crisis’. Meanwhile, the two women lack any depth in this already shallow male world.
The film becomes most awkward when our protagonists face their opponents, the Swedish team, resulting in largely unfunny jokes and a predictable subplot (little Britain never seemed so little, and it’s hard not to want to make a Brexit analogy). All of which seems like a missed opportunity, especially when considering the film has roots in the true story the Swedish men’s synchronised swimming team documented in Dylan Williams’ (credited as executive producer here) Men Who Swim (2010).
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this film is knowing that the strong ensemble cast (which alongside Brydon, Horrocks, and Riley, features talented actors Rupert Graves, Adeel Akhtar and Jim Carter) can deliver so much more than this.