SWIMMING WITH MEN
Director: Oliver Parker
Screenwriter: Aschlin Ditta
Runtime: 96 mins.
Australian release date: 21 March 2019
Previewed at: Dendy Newtown, Sydney, on 4 March 2019.
“This is a man’s world”, wails Tom Jones in a particularly uplifting (or ironic?) moment in Oliver Parker’s Swimming With Men and, indeed, it is in this sweet - if a little too saccharine - tale about a group of middle-aged men who bond by practising synchronised-swimming in their local pool. Based on the 2010 documentary Men Who Swim, the film sets out to show how a disparate group of men found solace in an activity which helped with both the physical and psychological dilemmas of growing old. When one of them says, “It’s a protest against the meaninglessness of life”, another corrects him, saying, “It’s against who we’ve become”. In the film they form a club that lives by the maxim of “what happens in the pool, stays in the pool”, and they don’t reveal much to each other about their personal lives; they just have one objective, to find the rhythm and develop the skills required to perform in synch.
Burnt out accountant Eric Scott (Rob Brydon) is going through a mid-life crisis. His dead-end, tedious job offers him no challenges and he’s feeling ignored by his ambitious wife Heather (Jane Horrocks), who’s been elected to a position on the local council and is absorbed in her new role. One day, while literally sitting on the bottom of his local pool, he sees a group of men struggling to co-ordinate their synchronised-swimming routine; when he remarks that they “don’t have an apex variable” and that this could be resolved by removing a member of the team, one of the group says that they could achieve the same effect if they added a member. Thus, Eric is co-opted into the team. Feeling more confident once they sort out this problem, they decide to compete in Milan at the Unofficial Male Synch-Swimming World Championships, in an attempt to make their endeavour legitimate or, at least, give it some wider purpose and provide a shot in the arm to their sense of self-worth. So, under the eye of their female coach, Susan (Charlotte Riley), they commence to train in earnest.
Swimming With Men showcases a fine ensemble of British male actors. It is a light-hearted, endearing comedy about a bunch of somewhat eccentric men succeeding against the odds, in a similar vein to films such as The Full Monty and Brassed Off. Brydon is perfect in a role that’s very different to the character he plays in The Trip series of films - he succeeds in portraying a lost soul (“Numbers fend off the chaos”) with whom we can empathise, while never being condescending. The supporting cast is terrific, too, especially Jim Carter (Carson, the butler from Downton Abbey) and Rupert Graves (who’s similarly well-known from numerous television roles). Though unashamedly feel-good, it must be acknowledged that Aschlin Ditta’s screenplay is also pretty predictable and clichéd. Still, if British comedy is to your liking, you won’t be disappointed watching a cast that is predominately male, far from perfect and not afraid to let it all hang out, particularly in the midriff section.