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The Philadelphia Inquirer

In a seaside resort, three young women grow and Robert J. Siegel's remarkable and involving indie feature Swimming.
Three Stars
By Carrie Rickey

'Summer. Myrtle Beach. Three girls verging on womanhood.

Frankie (Lauren Ambrose), an androgynous redhead who co-owns a burger joint, hides her desire under baggy overalls.

Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Lowe), a brittle bottle blonde, runs the piercing parlor next door and bares as much flesh as immodesty demands.

Josee (Joelle Carter), a willowy strawberry blonde, is the siren who blows into town and effortlessly attracts the attention Nicola so assiduously courts.

At first glance these girls are archetypes. The tomboy. The slut. The flirt.

But in Robert J. Siegel's remarkable and involving indie feature Swimming, each is a fully fleshed creature. The volatile dynamics of female friendship is the subject of this unhurried, low-key film that is so off-Hollywood that it seems positively French in its rhythms and resonance.

In this seaside resort, Nicola and Josee are the kind of girls who recklessly plunge into relationships while Frankie won't go near the water. She scarcely thinks of herself as a sexual being.

Since second grade, it's been Nicola as the sexpot and Frankie as her asexual sidekick. But when Josee appears, training her considerable charms on all men and also Frankie, something dormant in the tomboy awakens. At first the film is ambiguous about whether that latent something is lesbianism.

But it soon becomes clear that Josee's sexuality, which is polymorphous and situational, makes Frankie feel sexual for the first time. This alters the dynamic of her relationship with Nicola, and the longtime friends become estranged.

Working from a screenplay by Lisa Bazadona, Grace Woodard and himself, Siegel takes his time in revealing his three girl-women. Each of them starts the film letting others define her, proceeds to define herself in apposition to the other two, and ends by defining herself on her own terms. It's so rare to see characters live and breathe, grow and change, that this is a gift.

Without getting picture postcard-y, Siegel distills the flavor of the Carolina shore, where daytrippers and townies tempt each other and fate. Josee isn't the only drifter who arouses Frankie's slumbering sexuality; there's also Heath (Jamie Harrold), a shaggy vendor of tie-dye shirts, for whom indirection is a compass point.

Hollywood producers might criticize the lack of explicit conflict in Siegel's drama, but that's why Hollywood movies are limited. Explicit conflict explains it all; implicit conflict pulls the viewer into the characters' heads.

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