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Austin American-Statesman

Buoyant performance propels heart-warming 'Swimming'
Lauren Ambrose of HBO's 'Six Feet Under' masterfully conveys feelings and thoughts in this coming-of-age story.
Three Stars
September 6, 2002
Alison Macor

Frankie Wheeler (Lauren Ambrose of "Six Feet Under") wears her clothes baggy and her hair shaggy. Too old to be a tomboy, she's one of those quiet, thoughtful girls who often goes unnoticed because her wild best friend sucks up all the air in the room.

Co-owner with her weaselly brother Neil (Josh Pais) of her parents' beachfront hamburger shack, Frankie sleepwalks through her life in Myrtle Beach, S.C. She hangs out with Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Lowe), who owns the body-piercing store next door. During the high season, Frankie tags along with Nicola as she cruises the enlisted men who pour onto the boardwalk from a nearby military base. In one of "Swimming's" funnier scenes, Nicola tolerates a Marine's imaginary best friend just to claim him as her boyfriend. Desperate to be loved, Nicola endures "Ted's" presence in one comical situation after another. But Frankie's aspiration is to own a car, which represents to her everything that her life is not: mobile, limitless, hopeful.

Directed by Robert J. Siegel, "Swimming" is a drowsy, sweet-tempered story anchored by Ambrose's appealing performance. Her wide, heart-shaped face is an expressive canvas. Very little actually happens in "Swimming," but Ambrose's features reveal the depths of Frankie's emotional transformation.

A carefree waitress named Josee (Joelle Carter) triggers this awakening. Tall, tan and lanky, Josee charms both Frankie and her brother. She's a dismal waitress --orders pile up in the kitchen window while Josee flits around the restaurant filling ketchup bottles -- but she's a master manipulator and impressive flirt. Josee comes between Frankie and Nicola, a narrative shift that Siegel conveys with care.

An earnest T-shirt hawker (Jamie Harrold) distracts Frankie from her crush on Josee. In one of the film's most electric scenes, he slaps a plain hamburger patty into Frankie's palm and gently shows her how to feed his dogs. It is a surprisingly seductive gesture made sexier through rhythmic editing and the rawness of the moment.

Just when it seems Frankie is destined to fill ketchup bottles her whole life, she awakens to the possibilities around her. She thinks buying a car is the only way to escape from her dreary existence, but by the movie's end, Frankie discovers that she's had the keys all along.

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