Swimming Movie Review

Lauren Ambrose can do no wrong in coming of age stories. Her naïve charm worked to her advantage in Can't Hardly Wait and it's probably why she's playing a teenager to such raves in the HBO hit Six Feet Under, despite being perilously close to her mid-twenties. In her newest movie, Swimming (which actually premiered in 2000), Ambrose scores again as a bored young woman looking for herself and some excitement in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Ambrose's character, Frankie, dresses and acts like a woman who's entrenched in middle age without any hope of escaping. She runs the family restaurant with her older brother, Nick (Josh Pais), and she shares their parents' old house with Nick's wife and kids. Frankie's best friend, Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Lowe), apparently keeps her around so she can look more vivacious by comparison.

Frankie's worldview gets rocked when she meets the new waitress Josee (Joelle Carter), a beautiful woman who takes an interest in her without any ulterior motives. Josee's free spirit and disregard of others fascinates Frankie, both of which are nicely illustrated in a scene where Josee leisurely strolls through the crowded restaurant. Soon, they're spending time together, which enrages Nicola and Josee's boyfriend (James Villemaire) and destroys the ruts they've built for themselves.

Though the material sounds complex and potentially sleep-inducing, director Robert J. Siegel paints his portrait of boredom and discontent with deft strokes, which is evident in the film's first few minutes, as boys leer at an array of primped and sexy girls parading down the boulevard. Looking again at Frankie, with her no-frills looks and overalls, we now know her awkwardness. Later in the movie, when Siegel stages an unexpected meeting between Neil and Frankie, the director lets the actor's expressions communicate the feelings. Siegel displays a feel for the way people react to life's uncomfortable moments, and the movie's slow crawl of a pace perfectly captures how the summer days feel to the people who can't capitalize on their youthful freedom anymore.

Swimming's tempo, however, becomes a liability when Siegel and the other two screenwriters run low on observations and insights. That becomes obvious when Frankie suddenly rediscovers a passing love interest (Jamie Harrold) in the last third of the movie. For a character as world-weary and withdrawn as Frankie it seems unlikely that she would move so suddenly with a guy, especially when the movie concentrates so much on her growing rapport with Josee. Also, by introducing the development late into the plot, it doesn't get a chance to mesh into the story's delicate narrative fabric.

Still, Swimming's strengths outweigh its weaknesses. The acting and direction are telling without being showy and abrasive, a lesson the similarly-themed and recently-released The Last Kiss chose to ignore completely and thoroughly. Ambrose is especially good, as she performs without pretension and with a sense of caution that makes her character worthy of our sympathy and attention. Regardless of material, Ambrose is a talented actress we should all keep an eye on.

Cast & Crew

Director : Robert J. Siegel

Producer : Robert J. Siegel,


Comments

Swimming Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 2000

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