SWIMMING WITH MEN (2018)

December 6, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. If you are surprised to find a movie about an all-men’s middle-aged synchronized swim team, then you’ll likely be shocked to learn that another film on the same topic, LE GRAND BAIN (Sink or Swim), was released earlier this year, and these follow up a 2010 documentary MEN WHO SWIM covering the Swedish Men’s synchronized swim team. That’s right … three films! It is with great pleasure that I report director Olive Parker and writer Aschlin Ditta have delivered a charming and heartfelt movie that is really quite enjoyable, and more nuanced than you might pre-judge it to be.

Rob Brydon (THE TRIP) stars as Eric, a successful accountant going through a mid-life crisis that negatively affects his work, his marriage to Heather (a terrific Jane Horrocks), and his relationship with his teenage son Billy (Spike White). Eric spends his office days in a foggy haze, waiting for 6:00 pm so he can hit the local pool for a few laps – his only time alone without thoughts of boredom. On one of these evening dips, he (and we) get quite a visual … 7 men in goggles and caps sitting on the pool floor in a coordinated manner.

Soon enough, thanks to his math and analytical skills, Eric is invited to join the swim club (first rule of swim club: Don’t talk about swim club!) consisting of team leader Luke (Rupert Graves), dentist Kurt (Adeel Akhtar), young scofflaw Tom (Thomas Turgoose), recent widower Ted (Jim Carter), former youth footballer Colin (Daniel Mays), the “new guy” (Ronan Daly), and “Silent Bob” (Chris Jepson). Rather than the island of misfit toys, it’s a group of slightly damaged men – each with their own story of why life isn’t so great at the moment. We learn about each right along with Eric, and easily see how he fits right in. This group alternates drowning their sorrows with a pint at the local pub with nearly drowning each other at the local pool … with only the best intentions, of course.

Once the lads learn there is a competition in Milan, they bring on local swim teacher Susan (a spunky Charlotte Riley, “Peaky Blinders”) to coach them towards respectability. Sure, we get a few clichés and the predictability of events is usually spot on; yet, there is a core to the story and to each of the men that brings a welcome depth. Their coordination in the water leads to their better balance on dry land (aka, everyday life).

This is far from traditional cinematic masculinity, and instead shows us the impact of friendship and purpose. The original reason for forming the team was to protest the meaningless of life – to find their purpose. This is accomplished through the brilliance of gentle British humor (think DANNY DECKCHAIR, THE FULL MONTY, EDDIE THE EAGLE), and the clumsiness of full-bodied men in a pool … accompanied by Tom Jones’ version of “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World”.

watch the trailer:

Advertisements

MADE IN DAGENHAM

January 1, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. The first thing that strikes you about this movie is that it looks and feels like ancient history. In fact, it is based on the real life happenings in 1968 – only about 40 years ago. Sally Hawkins (so wonderful in Happy-Go-Lucky) portrays Rita O’Grady, the Ford sewing machinist who reluctantly takes on the leadership role in the battle for equal pay for women in Great Britain.

Director Nigel Cole tells this story minus the heavy-handedness of the times. In fact, it’s a very entertaining tale of right vs wrong (but, “that’s how we have always done it”). He uses actual archival footage of Ford plants, cars and workers, as well as general footage of England circa 1968. These cuts give the film a feel for the times and prevent any over-analysis of wardrobe and sets in the movie. Mr. Cole clearly has an understanding of women based on this film and his previous work in Calendar Girls.  He also pulls no punches on his views of unions of the day.

The cross-fire between the unions, Ford Motor, the workers and the government really bang home the notion of just how ridiculous this entire argument was (and is). Rita O’Grady was so effective because she cut through the muck and made it what it  really is … a simple case of right vs. wrong. Rights vs. privilege. This was never more apparent than in her meeting with Secretary of State Barbara Castle (Miranda Richardson). Madam Secretary is attempting to negotiate a settlement that will keep Ford happy, but quickly realizes … with help from O’Grady … that there is really only one correct course of action.

Supporting work is excellent from Bob Hoskins, Ms. Richardson, Daniel Mayes (as O’Grady’s husband), Rupert Graves and Rosamund Pike (husband and wife on different sides of the debate) and the rest of the cast of women, as well as the Ford executives and Union leaders. The film mostly rests on the shoulders of Sally Hawkins, who breezes through with a natural energy that just makes you want to pull for her. She was terrific in Happy-Go-Lucky, and even better here.

The film stops short of detailing the massive battle that escalated the following year between Secretary Castle and the Labor Unions. Most attribute these fights to the downfall of the Labour Party in 1970. However, Ms. Castle’s contributions are very clear in these all-important topics and led directly to England’s Equal Pay laws of 1970, which in turn paved the way for most other countries to follow.

This is a very uplifting film and shows the bravery and determination required of those who change the course of history. Whenever you hear talk regarding the lack of strong female movie roles, this film is exhibit number one that fact is often more powerful than fiction!  And it helps when told in a jolly good fashion.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoyed Norma Rae OR you agree with the old saying “what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander”

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer serious social issues be confined to CNN – even if presented in an entertaining way