Applying a similar formula that drove such features as The Full Monty, Calendar Girls and Kinky Boots to critical and commercial fruition, but utterly failing to inject the humour and heart that those films revealed organically, Swimming With Men is a missed opportunity that unfortunately can’t save itself from drowning.
Inspired by a 2010 documentary – Men Who Swim – which detailed an amateur all-male synchronized swimming team from Sweden, Swimming With Men aims for a bit more of that across-the-board appeal by making the focus team a group of Brits. Front and centre, though not initially, is self-absorbed accountant Eric (Rob Brydon), a needy middle-ager who’s bored of his monotonous work routine and feeling neglected at home due to his wife (Jane Horrocks)’s recent election into the local council.
Given how unpleasant Eric comes off, and the fact that his feeling of neglect at home is completely unfounded – he sees his wife having a drink with a colleague and immediately assumes she’s having an affair – Swimming With Men already dives off on the wrong foot by giving us a protagonist that we just don’t care about. In a huff over misdirected anger, the sulky lamb packs up and sets up shop in a local hotel, escaping to a nearby swimming pool to further clear his head.
It’s here that Eric meets an assortment of fellow fellas, all hopeful synchronized swimmers who are having trouble staying afloat with their latest snowflake-shaped formation. Eric being a math whizz (snore) means he can see the statistical anomaly that is causing this failure, so (wouldn’t you know it) they opt to bring the poor guy into the group as both a statistical key figure and because they sense he’s a kindred spirit of sorts.
These men are all trying to escape something, so swimming is their sanctuary, and had the film opted to give us a group of characters that were either likable or easily distinguishable from one another (or, shock horror, a combination of both), Oliver Parker’s tepid “comedy” would’ve been far more forgivable. Eric choosing to walk out on his family means any of his grand gestures in trying to win them back are hollow, which essentially results in the film’s climactic moment – presumably staged to evoke emotion – failing dismally as you’re practically rooting for his suffering wife to reject his advances and swim towards the sunset with literally anyone else.
Where the film does earn its point is in the swimming routine scenes which have an endearingly clumsy nature that drives home the dedication of its ageing cast. Of course these scenes don’t match the vanity-free, sheer elation experienced in the stripping sequences of the aforementioned The Full Monty, but it’s the closest thing Swimming With Men comes to displaying a genuine spirit, and more of that (and far less Brydon) could’ve resulted in a middle-ground laugher as opposed to the sinking stinker this ultimately is.
About Swimming With Men
Rob Brydon stars alongside a talented British cast in this comedy that tips its (swimming) cap at beloved British comedies such as The Full Monty and Calendar Girls. Inspired by the Dylan Williams 2010 documentary, Men Who Swim, SWIMMING WITH MEN tells the story of a man (Brydon) who is suffering a mid-life crisis and eventually finds new meaning to his life as part of an all-male, middle-aged, amateur synchronised swimming team. Together they make a bid to compete at the unofficial Male Sync-Swimming World Championships, and no doubt a shot at personal redemption along the way.
Swimming With Men (M) is screening in Australian theatres from March 21st 2019.