Film review: Feel-good comedy Swimming With Men works hard to stay afloat

Swimming With Men concerns a group of mostly middle-aged blokes who strike up a friendship at the local pool and decide to enter an international synchronised swimming contest. Damon Smith isn't fully convinced that it holds water

Swimming With Men – a gently effervescent tale of male bonding

INSPIRED by a true story, director Oliver Parker's feel-good comedy treads a lot of dramatic water before a rousing finale, which affirms the power of friendship to heal deep emotional wounds.

Swimming With Men follows a group of disillusioned husbands, widowers and singletons, who discover camaraderie, courage and a sense of belonging as a ramshackle synchronised swimming team.

Screenwriter Aschlin Ditta wades through syrupy sentiment festooned with familiar plot points to reach a fist-pumping resolution, which includes underwater shots of a homegrown cast putting their best feet forward (and in the air) in pursuit of sporting glory.

The Full Monty is an obvious template but Parker's film lacks the rich characterisation, bountiful good humour and lump-in-the-throat emotion, which carried the stripping Sheffield steelworkers all of the way to the Oscars red carpet.

There are some touching moments bubbling beneath the surface of Ditta's script but back stories are painfully undernourished and a romantic subplot between one of the men and the team's straight-talking female coach is insipid.

It's hard to muster sympathy for the characters when their woes are largely self-inflicted. Regardless, only a stone-cold heart would be unmoved by the team's sprightly final performance in front of the judges, which is suitably rough around the edges to retain a splash of plausibility.

Eric (Rob Brydon) is a mild-mannered accountant in the midst of a suffocating midlife crisis. His councillor wife Heather (Jane Horrocks) seems smitten with her boss (Nathaniel Parker) and Eric struggles to connect to his teenage son Billy (Spike White). The only time Eric feels he can draw breath is when he is swimming laps at a public pool in his lunch hour.

During one of these stress-reducing workouts, Eric meets Ted (Jim Carter), Luke (Rupert Graves), Colin (Daniel Mays), Tom (Thomas Turgoose), Kurt (Adeel Akhtar), Silent Bob (Chris Epson) and New Guy (Ronan Daly), who have formed their own synchronised swimming team.

"We all have our moments at the bottom of the pool. That's why we set this up," explains Ted.

Professional swimmer Susan (Charlotte Riley), who works at the pool, encourages the men to compete in the unofficial world championships where they would face the reigning Swedish champions led by her ardent admirer Jonas (Christian Rubeck).

"Get practising guys. There's a five-way battle for second place," smirks the Scandinavian beefcake.

Following four weeks of intense training by Susan, Eric and co prepare to represent Great Britain in Milan.

Swimming With Men is a gently effervescent tale of male bonding that promises more than it ultimately delivers.

Brydon struggles to mine humour from a flimsy script and his on-screen chemistry with Horrocks is inert, undermining the impact of a fairytale coda.

Parker's film works hard to stay afloat and, thanks to a trim running time, keeps its head above water to the end credits.

SWIMMING WITH MEN (12A, 97 mins) Comedy/Drama/Romance. Rob Brydon, Jim Carter, Rupert Graves, Daniel Mays, Thomas Turgoose, Adeel Akhtar, Charlotte Riley, Ronan Daly, Jane Horrocks, Chris Epson, Spike White, Christian Rubeck. Director: Oliver Parker.

RATING: 5/10

Released: July 6 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

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