mon 08/08/2022

Swimming with Men review - Rob Brydon and co sink | reviews, news & interviews

Swimming with Men review - Rob Brydon and co sink

Swimming with Men review - Rob Brydon and co sink

Midlife crisis synchro comedy forgets to include laughs

Men behaving sadly: 'Swimming with Men'

Swimming with Men is a British comedy which must have looked like a dead cert when it was pitched. “A bunch of middle-aged male losers do synchronised swimming. They have a bossy female coach who persuades them to go to the world championships. How funny (and moving) is that? The tears will flow.

The jokes will write themselves!” Unfortunately the jokes did not write themselves, and no one else got round to writing them either.

The rot sets in early when Eric (Rob Brydon), a salaryman who does the numbers for a big City firm, walks out on his marriage to Heather (Jane Horrocks), whom he groundlessly suspects of having an affair with the smooth local politician (Nathaniel Parker) she has just been elected to join on the local council. “Why are you being weird?” she asks. A good question which the film never satisfactorily answers. There seems little cause for Eric’s midlife crack-up. He is and remains a boring pillock in whose inevitable redemption through the medium of synchro you have absolutely no investment nor interest.

At the pool, nonetheless, Eric falls in with a septet of sad sacks who each treats synchro as a safe space in which to fend off demons. The club’s manifesto finds them protesting against the end of dreams and the meaninglessness of life – “against what we’ve become,” says one of them. Its rules insist that no one talks about their private lives. Which means nobody shares, so for gaping stretches of screen time all we’re left with is banter, which is a couple of circles of hell under sarcasm as the lowest form of wit. Pragmatically, two of the group – a fat bloke and a silent guy – have next to no lines. This feels like a solution to the problem of crowding the film with too many back stories and expensive actors.Swimming with MenEric, being a numbers man, teaches the group geometry and on the edge of the pool a thin young woman in glasses (Charlotte Riley) tells them it’s looking great and they should go to the worldies and she can coach them in a shouty northern accent. Presumably she’s a syncho swimmer herself, though we’re never told why she's loitering about the place. Serial shagger Luke (Rupert Graves) fancies her. Everyone (or is it just one or two of them) says no to this idea before obviously saying yes, especially Colin (Daniel Mays), a builder whose pathetic rosebud moment involves flunking a football trial as a kid.

The template for this journey into the damaged souls of hardened men is, of course, The Full Monty. But that was a response to the emasculating impact of unemployment rooted in the social and industrial fact of Thatcherite Britain. Swimming with Men has nothing so concrete to kick against. Among the other low-impact grievances Adeel Akhtar has a controlling boyfriend and Jim Carter is mourning his recently deceased wife, while Thomas Turgoose as a petty thief is the highly irritating joker of the pack.

It’s a measure of the script’s poverty of ambition that there are two moments when someone jumps out of their skin at someone else’s proximity. One would have been funny, three also. But two? There’s a purring Swedish villain and a creepy scene at a kids’ party with a drowning clown. Oliver Parker directs with an awareness that Aschlin Ditta’s script craves the pep of editorial jiggery-pokery. But nothing can expunge the deflating reality that Swimming with Men amounts to a series of formulaic quotations, culminating in the weary cluster of cliches uttered at the 11th hour by Eric as they prepare to compete in Milan. The result, despite the best efforts of a crack cast of pedigree actors, is Sinking with Men.


Nobody shares, so for gaping stretches of screen time all we’re left with is banter


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters