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Here’s one for Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival. Ishai Setton’s witty comic drama, “The Big Bad Swim,” navigated many successful laps through the festival circuit last year from Tribeca to Avignon, collecting four fest honors and critical acclaim in its wake. But the harsh reality of the film distribution business has set in: The film is now in a very small regional release throughout the nation before its DVD release next month.
To be sure, the film lacks star names, but then so does “Knocked Up.” “Swim’s” two female leads, Paget Brewster and Jess Weixler, are bright, attractive, sexy actresses whose performances certainly appeal to men and women. In fact, Weixler made a considerable impression this year at Sundance in “Teeth,” causing the jury to create a special prize for her. But that film hasn’t been released yet, so “Swim” can’t build on any growing fan base for the actress.
None of which explains why such a sharp comedy didn’t gain an enthusiastic distributor. There aren’t that many solid comedies, whether aiming for mainstream audiences or sophisticated adults as “Swim” does, that they should fall by the wayside.
Setton and his writer, Daniel Schechter, cleverly situate their multicharacter story in and around a local gym’s swimming pool, where terrified, water-phobic adults gingerly approach an adult-ed swim class much as the vacationers in “Jaws” eyed the bloody water. Among them are a cop terrified of the water, a young woman looking for a guy and a wealthy couple learning to swim so they can use their new pool.
The two main characters are the least frightened of the bunch. Amy (Brewster), a high school calculus teacher, takes the class to escape the strain of a crumbling marriage to a fellow teacher. Jordan (Weixler), who somehow never got around to learning how to swim, uses the class to relax between her two high-stress jobs — blackjack and roulette dealer at an Indian casino and dancer at a strip club.
The hunky instructor has his own issues. Noah (Jeff Branson) has undergone years of therapy, both physical and psychological, because of an athletic injury. Coming out of his shell now, he is thinking of making two major moves: getting off his meds and acquiring a dog.
Amy and Jordan wind up fast friends, exchanging confidences even as Amy experiments with a romance with a much younger gambler (Michael Mosley) she meets at the casino. Meanwhile, Noah gets a dog. Then one night he wanders into Jordan’s strip club, unaware that his student works there.
Jordan’s young brother and aspiring documentary filmmaker David (Avi Setton), who is enrolled in a class taught by Amy’s husband, wants to make a docu about his sister’s life — and lifestyle. His partner in crime, Hunter (Ricky Ullman), has a major obsession with his big sis.
With each clever plot twist, the film maintains focus on its characters, digging out emotional truths from their interplay and behavior. Brewster, Weixler and Branson spark to the main action as believably troubled yet determined people. And the metaphors about taking the plunge and confronting your own worst fears work out neatly as the interlocking story lines unfold.
Tech credits are fine, both in and out of the water, in this Connecticut-based production.
THE BIG BAD SWIM
Argot Pictures/Setton Sun Prods.
Four Act Films
Director: Ishai Setton
Screenwriter/Executive producer: Daniel Schechter
Producers: Ishai Setton, Chandra Simon
Executive producers: Sandy Garvin, David Raymond
Director of photography: Josh Silfen
Production designer: Valerie Green
Music: Chad Kelly, Julian Velard
Co-producers: Ryan Kampe, Elana Pianko, Sylvain Tron
Costume designer: Cara Liedlich
Editor: Ian B. Wile
Amy Pierson: Paget Brewster
Noah Owens: Jeff Branson
Jordan Gallagher: Jess Weixler
Hunter McCarthy: Ricky Ullman
David Gallagher: Avi Setton
Martin: Todd Susman
Joanna: Darla Hill
Carl: Kevin Porter Young
Running time — 96 minutes
No MPAA rating
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