Swimming (2000) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language, some sexuality and drug use
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Lauren Ambrose, Joelle Carter, Jennifer Dundas, Jamie Harrold, Joshua Harto
Director: Robert J. Siegel
Screenplay: Leslie Bazadona, Robert J. Siegel, Grace Woodard
Review published March 9, 2000
Swimming is faithfully directed and co-written by Robert J. Siegel (Parades, Inesita), and when you realize it's his first film in over 20 years, you wonder why we weren't graced by more of his fine work. The other screenwriters are women, Lisa Bazadona and Grace Woodard, which may have been helpful for a male director for this very quiet and personal look at one young girls rite of passage into a woman. As talented as the writers and director show themselves to be with the characters, all would be for naught if it weren't for the subtly brilliant performance by Lauren Ambrose, better known for her work on HBO's series "Six Feet Under" or for her minor role in Can't Hardly Wait.
Ambrose stars as Frankie, a young woman who spends her days working as a waitress in her family-owned diner in Myrtle Beach along with her older brother, Neil (Josh Pais, Rounders). Her best friend is Nicola (Dundas, Changing Lanes), who runs a piercing salon next door to the diner, and together they look forward to the tourist season so they can hope to earn some money from the students who come to party and swim at the nearby beach. A new waitress named Josee (Carter, Lisa Picard is Famous) is hired to handle some of the surplus business, but one suspects Neil may be more interested for her in her looks than her abilities if her performance were any indication. Frankie has always been a bit of a square peg, but finds a friendship with Josee to be appealing despite the fact that she makes her job harder and her boyfriend is a jerk. Meanwhile, a drifting stoner named Heath (Harrold, Erin Brockovich) takes a liking to Frankie as well, and her struggle to find identity and her own path causes conflicts with Frankie's family and friends.
Swimming is one of those coming of age stories that gives you merely a glimpse into a few days in the life of a girl turning into a woman, and some may feel a bit distant toward a film that doesn't have a conventional sense of closure to it. However, the film does actually does complete its story and those astute enough to realize how Frankie has changed from the beginning of the film to the end will see the end as the last chapter of one phase of life and the beginning of the next. Ironically, for a film that is directed by a man, the female characters are the most developed, while the male characters tend to be somewhat one-dimensional, and the result is a mixed bag as far as the supporting cast goes. Yet, Ambrose's character is so well-played, that Swimming manages to stay afloat off of her performance alone, a rather unique character to be in the heart of a film, and has a complexity that smacks of reality.
Swimming is recommended for those who don't mind quiet slice of life films that relate messages in more subtle ways. It is slow and challenging in its meaning, but for those who are in the mood and of a mind for it, it's also quite refreshing.
©2000 Vince Leo