Written by Aschlin Ditta
Directed by Oliver Parker
Note: I saw this British comedy at last year’s Mill Valley Film Festival. I incorrectly assumed it would get an American theatrical release, and therefore, I wrote the review below. I have recently discovered that it’s streaming on Vudu, Google Play. and Amazon Prime. So now that you have the ability to see this movie, I am providing this review.
Yet another British comedy made in the image of The Full Monty. Once again, it’s about a group of middle-aged, out-of-shape folks who set out to do something outlandish and, considering their ages and conditions, improbable. But unlike the original, Swimming with Men is peopled with shallow comic types doing things we know must be done in this sort of movie.
But I can’t condemn it entirely for one simple reason: It’s funny. And when it comes to comedy, that’s a large chunk of what matters. I laughed quite a bit.
Rob Brydon stars as Eric, a very unhappy accountant working in a huge, modern, soulless office building. He’s apparently brilliant at what he does, but it brings him no joy. His wife has just been elected to local office, where she’s working to save the town’s libraries. Eric isn’t happy about the new situation, and especially about the hunk with whom she’s closely working.
Eric checks into a hotel.
Then he joins up with a group of men that have turned themselves into a synchronized swimming team. They don’t know what they’re doing, and several of them have paunches that don’t belong on any team sport, but they don’t care because they’re just doing it for the fun of it. When brought into the team, Eric is told that “The first rule of Swim Club is: You do not talk about Swim Club.”
Of course, it’s not going to stay that way. Some members of the team get ambitious and convince the rest to go competitive. Soon they get a coach (an attractive woman, of course, played by Charlotte Riley) and set out to represent England in an international competition.
And so the book of clichés opens wide. Yes, you will get training montages. Someone will want to drop out, then change his mind. Eric’s wife will try to reconnect with her husband. There will be a pep talk. I won’t tell you how they do in the big competition, but I will tell you that it’s no surprise. If you’ve seen enough movies, you’ll have a good idea of what will happen in Swimming with Men.
If you watch a lot of British movies or TV, you’ll recognize many in the cast, even if you can’t completely place them. These include Downton Abbey‘s Jim Carter and Sherlock‘s Rupert Graves. Thomas Turgoose plays the most original character within the group – a thief. His ways of avoiding the police provide some original humor.
Swimming with Men will not go down as a comic masterpiece. It does not illuminate the human condition. It frequently turns toward the highly unlikely, without the courage of taking the next step into the absurd. It will not keep you laughing from fade-in to fade-out.
But it often makes you laugh. And for a simple entertainment, that could be enough. Just don’t expect anything exceptional.