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Country: U.S.A.
Running Time: 98 mins.
Director: Robert J. Siegel
Stars: Lauren Ambrose, Jennifer Dundas Lowe

Young and shy Frankie Wheeler (Lauren Ambrose of Party of Five and Can't Hardly Wait) spends most of her time quietly observing the big, strange world around her. Working in her family's restaurant on Myrtle Beach by day and hanging out on the boardwalk at night with her best friend, Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Lowe, First Wives Club), Frankie is prepared to waste away another sleepy Carolina summer in the shadow of more conspicuous local characters.

Joelle Carter, Jennifer Dundas Lowe, Lauren Ambrose,Swimming
Josee (Joelle Carter), Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Lowe) & Frankie (Lauren Ambrose)
That is, until the beautiful and mysterious Josee (Joelle Carter, High Fidelity) and stoner Heath (Jamie Harrold, Erin Brockovich) roll into town, both expressing an interest in her, and making her the center of their attention. Suddenly Frankie is feeling new emotions; she's forced to become an active participant in her own life, rather than a quiet observer, much to the chagrin of the attention-hungry Nicola who'd prefer not to lose her loyal sidekick.

Directed with gentle but assured grace by Robert J. Siegel, Swimming is a slight coming-of-age drama — but only on the surface. There's really much more going on here. Building slowly and subtly, the film, sporting a breezy spontaneity and realistically drawn characterizations, develops into a significant character study that is both moving and wise.

Refreshingly, Siegel uses gentle brushstrokes to tell his introspective story, rather than big, clunky plot developments. Frankie doesn't blather on about her new experiences. Instead, something as simple as the cook at the restaurant observing that she looks different ("Did you get a haircut or something?") tells us that the world at large is taking notice of her metamorphosis.

In this way, we are allowed to feel Frankie's emotional growth, feel the strange new sensations she's experiencing as she runs along the boardwalk with the sexy Josee, dances on an erotically charged dance floor, or kisses Heath for the first time. We witness firsthand the strange new tingles running through Frankie's body and the more refined observations developing in her mind.

Story-wise, not a lot happens in Swimming, and yet, in the development of Frankie's character, vast changes occur. By the film's end, we know that Frankie has evolved when she responds to Nicola's jealous assertion that Josee doesn't belong in their group by asking, "Who belongs here?" We know that Frankie, more self-aware than those around her, will inevitably move on to a life far bigger than the one she currently plays out on Myrtle Beach. But not today.

-Robert Payne

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