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Swimming with Men (2018)

CRUMBLIES… 4 crumblies

I’ve tried to be a fan of synchronised swimming over the decades, but it’s kinda sexless, you know? The women who tend to do it are either distressingly kaleidoscopic, or swirling their posing butts off at risk of drowning. The goggles and nose-clips don’t help either. And, yes, Righteous Rita has pointed out it’s about artistry and teamwork not the crass daydreams of a lonely old goat scouring late night for his wank-bank. As she put it. Rudely. So, old Jack here wasn’t really on-board for a film about men doing it until Rita promised a few laughs amongst the midlife silliness. So, we sat down together to watch Swimming with Men.

And she was right. There are a few laughs along the way, though mostly from a cast working at full pelt to be warm of heart and cuddlesome. Rob Brydon, not a man I associate with vulnerability, plays midlife Eric. Trapped in work, unconfident and full of blame at home, he pretty much drives himself into an hotel room and abandons his high achieving wife, Jane Horrocks as town councillor Heather.  For this to work, they both play with the subtextual brakes on, which is a shame. I fancied a bit of Sunshine on Leith (2013) vocal work.

Anyway, having wrecked his normality, wounding his offspring to boot, Brydon sets about swimming. There, he bumps into the group of male British character actors failing to synchronise in the pool. Being a shocking numbers-man, Brydon points out they need to balance their ranks for any of the posing to work…and he gradually gets sucked into the game.

And then we’re onto deeply familiar plotting, but with a nice and rare insight into men-in-a-group sans impending warfare – or stripping, film fans. We get to know the team as they sag and wheeze without vanity in various embarrassing scenarios. Jim Carter takes the lugubrious prize as Ted in tight competition with the more pointed Adeel Akhtar as Kurt, Daniel Mays gives off uncontrollable tension as Colin, Thomas Turgoose gives quality British lowlife (welcome to the present day from 1940s films) – the adorable Tom, while housewives’ favourite Rupert Graves is Luke, lover-in-waiting of the woman who ultimately  takes the group on for the crazily-high-stakes of an actual competition. Charlotte Riley is terrifying, sympathetic and then terrifying again as Susan. We’d all swim faster for her.

Together, this ensemble deftly lifts the film from the darkness of Brydon’s midlife angst by being tremendously keen, silly, secretive, bickery and ultimately full of support and agonised openness. There’s a very modern scene in the changing rooms, minutes before competition, which reveals rather nicely that the silence of men contains one, long, confused, pained and tragic scream that belts around their heads in middle-age as angrily it did in their teens. Nicely done. It isn’t easy being a man – and I’m glad someone is saying it.

Of course, Swimming with Men is utterly predictable as soon as you twig the midlife theme. More so when you see the amateurs in the pool. Distressingly so when you know there’s a competition scene coming. But…well…Righteous Rita had a point. The synchronising of men isn’t easy, not least because their personal journeys to cooperation are so bloody long. And this film, mostly through the work of the cast rather than the script, make that accessible, daft and fun.

A light movie for a sunny evening. You’ll make some new friends and smile along with them and their happy ending. Go watch.

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