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Frankie, My Dear
'Swimming' details the steps Frankie (Lauren Ambrose from 'Six Feet under') takes to come into her own

by Stephen Brophy

We all like vacations, particularly summer vacations, and many of us like to go to resorts of various kinds, particularly those with proximity to oceans, to soak up sun and let other people worry about the mundane details of life. ``Swimming" is one of those movies that concerns itself with the lives of those other people.

Like ``Ruby in Paradise" or other films in this little genre, ``Swimming" focuses its attention on one young woman who works in one of the tourist-servicing trades, and watches in a relaxed way the seemingly random events that eventually add up to a change of perception. Set somewhere in the Carolinas, it starts off by introducing us to a nice young woman who is tugged in many different directions by many different friends and responsibilities.

Frankie actually introduces herself, letting us know in a brief voice-over at the beginning of the story that she co-owns the beachfront restaurant she works in with her brother, and that she's lived here all her life.

Then we follow her out of the restaurant door and begin to know the world she moves around in.

This world includes the piercing academy right next door, where Frankie's best friend since second grade, Nicola, (whose only visible unconventional piercing is between her lower lip and chin), employs a slacker barker to lure a clientele for extra body adornments. Nicola provides most of the loudness in the movie, from drunken tirades that sometimes get her arrested, to the more considered expressions of jealousy when her old best friend starts behaving mysteriously in the presence of the obviously sexy new waitress.

With a name like Frankie, our heroine has already been pegged with a marker of gender ambivalence, and her general appearance contributes to the same uncertainty. She wears her red hair cropped closer to the head than many boys, and nearly always wears gender-neutral coveralls, even when she goes out dancing. So it's not a big surprise when Frankie develops an intense interest in Josee. But maybe it's just because Josee represents a kind of womanhood that Frankie can't even approximate.

What handsome says

As played by Lauren Ambrose, Frankie, possesses an open, frankly questioning face, that can become totally wreathed in beauty when she breaks into a shy smile. Most of the time though, she isn't smiling. Maybe she believes what Josee's lifeguard boyfriend (by far the biggest caricature in the movie) tells her--that she's so ugly he feels in need of rescue whenever he looks at her. This didn't keep him from having a brief fling with her sometime before the time of the movie, but handsome people have a way of attacking other's looks whenever they get into squabbles.

Frankie's insecurity is fed more by Nicola than by Brad (the cruel-mouthed life guard played by James Villemaire). Jennifer Dundas Lowe's Nicole depends on Frankie for a lot, and that contributes to her relative silence when Frankie could use a little ego-boosting. It certainly contributes to her nastiness when Josee comes into all their lives.

Josee, played by Joelle Carter, is undoubtedly the siren that her adversaries take her for, and knows how to use her assets to take care of herself. But as a participant in the eternal sex wars, she is more sinned against than sinner. She is painted with admirable ambiguity by director Robert J. Siegel, so that we might ask if she is merely taking advantage of Frankie's growing interest, or might actually have reciprocal feelings. But that isn't really the point.

The point, such as it is, is all wrapped up in Frankie's blossoming sense of independence as the events of this particular summer shake her out of her accustomed life. Josee's warm openness is like spring sun to the seeds of Frankie's freedom, and helps her to be warmly open in return, when the gentle stoner named Heath, played by Jamie Harrold, shows up to provide the final ingredient to Frankie's new life.

This independence announces itself rather abruptly towards the end of the movie, particularly for those who might have been lulled by the relaxed seaside ambience and not noticed that Frankie is not only watching what goes on around her, but increasingly reacting to it. The movie does not provide us with a detailed map of Frankie's journey, only with some strung-together sequences that we have to sort out for ourselves to come to our particular meanings. The quiet aesthetic of this film will not satisfy action fans, but it does allow for much more intense involvement for those who are willing to put in a little effort.

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