The Full Monty has so much to answer for. Since its initial success in 1997, there have been innumerable films about groups of men banding together in order to perform in front of audiences, and the makers of Swimming With Men are clearly hoping to find similar success. Here, the chosen skill is male synchronised swimming and, while there’s definitely the germ of a good idea at the heart of this endeavour, the resulting film never really manages to make its way out of the shallow end.
Eric Scott (Rob Brydon) is an accountant, currently going through a mid-life crisis. Thoroughly bored and disgusted with his day job, he somehow convinces himself that his wife, newly elected town councillor, Heather (Jane Horrocks), is having an affair with her boss. He promptly storms out of the family home to live in a nearby hotel and spends most of his spare time at the local swimming baths, working off his feelings of discontent. It’s here that he encounters a group of disaffected men who are learning synchronised swimming routines. They include handsome leader, Luke (Rupert Graves), former youth team footballer, Colin (Daniel Mays), and dodgy delinquent, Tom (Thomas Turgoose). Eric’s abilities with mathematics apparently make him an ideal addition to the collective and, pretty soon, with the help of swimming bath attendant, Susan (Charlotte Riley), they are training to enter the Male Synchronised Swimming World Championships. (If this strikes you as an unlikely occurrence, the film makers are keen to point out that a team from Sweden – who actually have small roles in the film – did exactly that a few years ago.)
But really, Swimming With Men fails to convince on so many levels, this is the least of the problems I have with it. There’s undoubtedly a timely message here about male bonding and the need for men to find a place where they can open up and talk about their unhappiness, but this film is a missed opportunity to fully explore the idea. Instead, the lazy, underdeveloped screenplay prefers to deal with simpler issues, but even then it doesn’t get them right, throwing up too many questions for comfort. Why is Brydon’s character so deluded? We are shown very little motivation for his destructive behaviour. And what really changes by the end?
There are also some less pressing – but nonetheless niggling – issues. Why are several really excellent character actors given very little to do but splash around in budgie smugglers? And why is there no visible change over time in the physiques of men who are supposedly training hard for a World Championship?
Ultimately though, what really defeats the film is the fact that the sport of synchronised swimming, as performed by a group of amateurs, just doesn’t look very spectacular on the big screen. I find myself in total sympathy with the bunch of kids at a birthday party who are given a performance as a special treat and watch the resulting antics in bemused silence. (No wonder one of them feels the need to liven things up by putting a turd in the pool.) Indeed, it really says something when the film’s most memorable scene has the swimming team performing a spirited routine… on dry land.
This is a potentially interesting idea that fails to stay afloat and seems destined to sink without trace.