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The New York Daily News

One girl's summer in the sun
September 13, 2002
Jami Bernard

Diner waitress Frankie Wheeler is the classic outsider in "Swimming," a confident, realistic coming-of-age story set in the seaside resort of Myrtle Beach, S.C.

With her pale skin, dungarees and defeated look, Frankie has been the only girl on the beach not having any fun. Everyone else seemed to be tall, tanned, fashionable, libidinous and just passing through, while Frankie toiled in her family-owned restaurant, an unwilling spectator for all the seasonal hormones and high spirits.

This summer, however, things begin to change. Like the one allergic person in the room who gets all the cat's attention, Frankie is suddenly in demand. Both the sublime new waitress (Joelle Carter) and a tie-dyed-shirt salesman (Jamie Harrold) are finding things in Frankie's nakedly unblinking gaze that even Frankie didn't know existed.

The sexual attention and subsequent awakening serve to destabilize things between Frankie and best friend Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Lowe), a tattoo artist with a wild streak bordering on hysteria.

This fraught time of female adolescence is rarely portrayed on film, much less from a recognizable point of view. That makes "Swimming" a rarity. Director and co-writer Robert J. Siegel allows the movie to amble along, touching on themes of friendship, loyalty and the daily grind.

It's also an excellent showcase for the talented actress Lauren Ambrose (of HBO's "Six Feet Under"). She brings Frankie from a sullen blob-child to an exciting, excited young woman. Without any of the tired declamatory speeches heard in most movies, Frankie registers her sea changes through facial expression and attitude.

In many ways, "Swimming" is like those films about townies dreaming of breaking away. Its leisurely pace and reliance on Ambrose's pale-lashed gaze make it more of an interior monologue. That may not please viewers who crave action, but those with patience will be rewarded.

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