'Swimming With Men': Film Review

IFC Films
Sinks quickly.
12/7/2018

Rob Brydon of the 'Trip' movies plays a depressed accountant who becomes newly energized when he joins an amateur male synchronized swimming team in this comedy directed by Oliver Parker.

Why is it that so many British people of a certain age can't keep their clothes on, at least in the movies? The Full Monty and Calendar Girls both featured middle-aged characters baring it all to solve their financial problems. Now comes the new comedy directed by Oliver Parker (The Importance of Being Earnest, Johnny English Reborn) about a bunch of men dealing with their mid-life crises by forming a synchronized swimming team. Aiming for charm but instead coming across as hopelessly forced, Swimming With Men barely manages to stay afloat.

It doesn't help that the central character, played by comedian/actor Rob Brydon, is such an unappealing drip. Eric is an accountant who is miserable both at work and at home, especially after his wife Heather (Jane Horrocks, wasted) becomes newly energized by her burgeoning political career. It doesn't help his self-esteem or security about his marriage that she's becoming increasingly close to her handsome boss (Nathaniel Parker, the filmmaker's brother).

The only place Eric finds comfort is in the local indoor pool where he blows off steam every night after work. One day he lets himself sink to the bottom out of sheer despair and spots a group of men sitting underwater at the other end of the pool engaging in synchronized movements. He soon strikes up a conversation and joins the group, whose members have found camaraderie and common purpose. "It isn't just a club, it's an idea," one of them tells Eric solemnly.

Cue the intended but unachieved hilarity as we watch the disparate group of Speedo-wearing, paunchy men haplessly attempting the sort of elaborate routines predominantly performed by female swimmers. The men's flailing efforts are observed by pool manager Susan (Charlotte Riley), who takes it upon herself to attempt to train them into respectability. Her character provides the springboard for a romantic subplot involving Luke (Rupert Graves), a divorced member of the group who develops a crush on the much younger woman.

None of the swimmer characters, whose ranks are played by the likes of Jim Carter (Downton Abbey), Adeel Akhtar and Daniel Mays, are well developed. They're mostly defined by single traits, such as one being gay, another an ex-con and another, "Silent Bob" (Chris Jepson), well, you can guess.

Naturally, the film leads up to a big competition about which few viewers will care. The screenplay by Aschlin Ditta includes several painful-to-endure episodes along the way, including one in which the men provide the entertainment at a children's birthday party. But none are as cringeworthy as the climactic scene in which Eric, in a desperate attempt to woo back his estranged wife, enlists the men to help him in a very public display of their talents.  

Brydon, so amusing in the Trip films co-starring Steve Coogan, has little opportunity to display his formidable comic chops here, and the other veteran performers are similarly adrift. This film was inspired by Men Who Swim, a 2010 documentary about a Swedish male synchronized swimming team, and features virtually the same plot as Sink or Swim, a French film that recently premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. They all represent a cinematic trend not be encouraged.

Production companies: Met Film Productions, Dignity Film Finance, Shoebox Films, Amp Film, Kerris Films, Umedia
Distributor: Sundance Selects
Cast: Rob Brydon, Rupert Graves, Adeel Akhtar, Jim Carter, Jane Horrocks, Thomas Turgoose, Daniel Mays, Charlotte Riley
Director: Oliver Parker
Screenwriter: Aschlin Ditta
Producers: Stewart Le Mareschai, Anna Mohr-Pletsch, Maggie Monteithu
Executive producers: Ian Dawson, Ben Friedman, Guy Heeley, Nadia Khamlichi, Al Morrow, Erik Pauser, Jonny Persey, Adrian Politowski, Chris Reed, Bastien Sirodot, Gabrielle Stewart, Peter Watson, Paul Webster, Dylan Williams
Director of photography: David Raedeker
Production designer: Amanda McArthur
Editor: Liana Del Giudice
Composer: Charlie Mole
Costume designer: Jo Thompson

97 minutes