Published On: Mon, Jul 9th, 2018

Film Review: Men swimming out of their depth | Films | Entertainment


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Swimming with men

Sadly, I don’t think Oliver Parker will realise the Oscarwin dream of British filmmakers with Swimming With Men, an underpowered comedy about an amateur, all-male, synchronised swimming team.

Ever since a low-budget drama about stripping Sheffield steelworkers became a global smash hit in 1997, our producers have become consumed with the idea of making “the next Full Monty”.

No sooner had the takings been totted up ($258 million, not bad for a $3.5million budget) than the hunt was on for more stories about underdogs turning their lives around with unlikely new vocations.

This new genre had a strong start.

Billy Elliot (working class kid takes up ballet), Calendar Girls (prim ladies go nude modelling) and Kinky Boots (shoe salesman discovers the drag scene) were all hits that went on to have second lives on stage.

But while 2014’s Pride (miners campaign for Gay Rights) went down well with critics it didn’t make an impression at the box office.

And when a group of booze-addled pensioners took up all-in wrestling in this year’s dire comedy Walk Like A Panther, this old rope was looking fatally frayed.

Yet Parker has a decent record of making money out of ageing lengths of intertwined fibre.

He did, after all, confound all expectations when his dreadful spy spoof sequel Johnny English Reborn became a moderate hit in 2011.

And his variation does have incongruity going for it.

There is something inherently funny about a group of flabby, veteran character actors prancing around in budgie smugglers.

But while the synchronised swimming bits are suitably amusing, the film flounders whenever the action leaves the pool.

Its biggest problem is Rob Brydon’s unlikeable and barely believable lead character Eric Scott, a self-obsessed London accountant who has been feeling neglected ever since his wife Heather (Jane Horrocks) was elected to the local council.

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Swimming with men UK premiere

The poor lamb can’t handle her success and when he sees her having a glass of wine with a new colleague (Nathaniel Parker), he is instantly convinced that she is having an affair.

Then, to the bemusement of his long-suffering teenage son Billy (Spike White), he flounces out of the house and moves into a hotel.

He tries to clear his head at his local swimming pool where he sees a group of men (played by Thomas Turgoose, Jim Carter, Daniel Mays, Adeel Akhtar and Rupert Graves) practising the officially female-only sport of synchronised swimming.

When the maths whizz interrupts their lame banter to point out that they need someone to act as an “apex” for one of their routines, the men invite him to join the club.

This isn’t just to do with his clever calculations.

It turns out the club is more about group therapy than swimming.

Each member has a personal problem that they need to escape and they have noticed Bob moping around and seen a kindred spirit.

How their issues led them to this bizarre sport is never properly explained.

Credulity is strained further when the men decide to take part in a big international competition, a plot device that is now so familiar it was spoofed in the last Pitch Perfect movie.

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Nathaniel Parker, Lucy Parker, Oliver Parker and Sir Alan Parker attend the UK Premiere

This is the unofficial men’s World Championship in Milan, a real event that was covered in Men Who Swim, the 2010 documentary that inspired this film.

But first they need someone to take charge of the training montage.

As luck would have it, their pool attendant Susan (Charlotte Riley) used to be a professional synchronised swimmer.

And as soon as we learn that the team’s best-looking member (Rupert Graves) is recovering from a messy divorce, we know she’ll also have to take on the duties of a love interest.

Parker’s best decision was to recruit the real Swedish team who featured in the documentary and task them with giving his cast a crash course in the bizarre sport.

Their hard work pays off in the routine the team performs at the tournament, which is well-staged and endearingly clumsy, an effect that would have been impossible to achieve with professional doubles.

But there’s just something a bit desperate about the whole set-up.

Masculinity in crisis was also one of the themes in The Full Monty but the steelworkers were stripping for their lives after losing their jobs.

Brydon’s Eric isn’t sacrificing his dignity so he can provide for his family, he’s doing it because he chose to walk out on them.

Being jealous of your wife’s career in local politics is, in modern parlance, a very first world problem.

Does he really need aquatic-based group therapy?

I suspect he just needs to man up.

Terminal is another film that feels like it’s well past its sell by date.

Writer-director Vaughn Stein seems to be attempting to make one of the over-stylised “neo-noirs” that filled VHS bargain buckets in the wake of Pulp Fiction.

The setting is a garish neon-lit city that looks just like a vast sound stage.

For stylistic, or possibly budgetary, reasons most of the action take places in a train station café where Margot Robbie pours coffee after pouring herself into a tiny waitress’s uniform.

Robbie does her best to make sense of Bonnie, a femme fatale who is secretly pulling the strings of a needlessly convoluted crime plot involving two hitmen (Dexter Fletcher and Max Irons), a suicidal teacher (Simon Pegg) and a doddery cleaner (Mike Myers).

But the costume changes, the fragmented timelines and the daft twists were always going to work against her.

You have to work very hard to follow this film and the duff dialogue never gives you a sense that the effort will be rewarded.

With the World Cup in full flow and the sun beating down, this is no time to put your best products in the shop window.

So perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to find out that Mary Shelley isn’t very good either.

Saudi director Haifaa al-Mansour relates how the teenager had to battle sexist publishers and her petulant poet husband Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth) to fulfil her literary ambition.

Fanning convincingly switches between youthful innocence and steely determination and there were some interesting insights into the poetry scene of Regency London.

But I just couldn’t buy her as the genius behind a novel like Frankenstein.

Bad things happen to her but we never get a sense of her inner life.

Enjoy the last week of the football. Hopefully, normal service will resume shortly.



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