UK Release Date: 6th July 2018
Runtime: 97 minutes
Director: Oliver Parker
Writer: Aschlin Ditta
Starring: Rob Brydon, Rupert Graves, Jane Horrocks, Jim Carter, Daniel Mays, Adeel Akhtar, Thomas Turgoose, Charlotte Riley
Synopsis: A group of disaffected men join forces to form a synchronised swimming team at their local pool and they ultimately end up competing for the UK in a global tournament.
Any sort of British underdog comedy that comes into cinemas inevitably evokes the memory of The Full Monty. That’s even more true in the case of Swimming With Men, which has been brazenly describing itself as “Full Monty in Speedos” or “The Pool Monty”. Obviously, that’s not a comparison that this decidedly middlebrow film is able to live up to, but there’s plenty of fun to be had with its silly premise – built around middle-aged men putting together a synchronised swimming team.
The audience entry point into this world is accountant Eric (Rob Brydon), who has been worn down by decades of tedious office work and an unhappy marriage with local councillor Heather (Jane Horrocks). Eric becomes convinced Heather is having an affair and spends time swimming lengths at his local pool. It’s there that he meets Luke (Rupert Graves) and his friends in a synchronised swimming team, played by such brilliant British actors as Jim Carter (Downton Abbey), Adeel Akhtar (The Big Sick), Daniel Mays (The Limehouse Golem) and Thomas Turgoose (This Is England). The team initially exists just for fun, but they soon learn about a world championship in Milan and enlist Charlotte Riley‘s swimming instructor to help them out.
Swimming With Men squeaks by almost entirely on the goodwill created by its lovable roster of comedy performers. Brydon initially starts as a rather unlikable, miserable presence committed to bouts of drunkenness, but the audience learns more about his character as the story progresses and he grows as part of the synchronised swimming team. By bonding with these other men – many of whom have problems much worse than his – Eric becomes a better person, and Brydon plays this transition very nicely. There’s an equally nice dynamic between Mays and Turgoose, who have an ersatz father and son relationship.
There is, however, some startling incompetence on show at times. Director Oliver Parker, who recently made the Dad’s Army remake and Johnny English Reborn, often crafts visual gags so weirdly that they aren’t even recognisable as jokes and the balance of decent giggles to awkward clunkers in Aschlin Ditta’s script is roughly 50-50. Far more energy and finesse is spent on the swimming sequences, which are put together very well and are clearly being carried out by the cast themselves, who evidently spent a lot of time training to make the routines look as good as they do.
And it’s those routines that stick in the mind when the credits roll. Swimming With Men is at its absolute best when it focuses on the charming silliness of the sporting underdog tale at its heart. It’s impossible not to have a little frisson of joy during the competition scenes and the finale – featuring a song and dance number at a ‘save the libraries’ protest – is a concentrated blast of absurd, adorable stupidity that ensures the movie finishes on a high note.
Pop or Poop?
There’s nothing particularly memorable or special about Swimming With Men, but it benefits from a terrific roster of performers who are always likable, even when the material they’re working with isn’t particularly funny on the page.
The underdog narrative kicks in late in the day to drag the whole thing into the world of cheesy silliness, which is where it should’ve been the whole time – Fight Club references included.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.