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Reeling Reviews

... a small film polished to the perfection of beach glass
Laura Clifford
April 30, 2002

Frankie Wheeler (Lauren Ambrose, HBO's "Six Feet Under") and her older brother Neil (Josh Pais, "Scotland, PA") have been left the family home and restaurant business in Myrtle Beach, SC, by their retired parents. As summertime swells the population, Frankie's preening lifeguard acquaintance Brad (James Villemaire, "Isn't She Great") begs a waitress job for his new girlfriend Josse (Joelle Carter, "American Pie 2").  Her presence will upset the balance of life for Frankie and her best friend and 'practically family' Nicola (Jennifer Dundas, "The First Wives Club") in writer/director Robert J. Siegel's "Swimming."

As Neil and his wife Marianne (Sharon Scruggs, "The Last Days of Disco") raise a family, Frankie does the singles thing with brash buddy Nicola, who runs a piercing business next door to the Wheeler's hamburger joint. Frankie's easy acceptance of the incompetent looker Josse gets under Nicola's skin and she watches like a hawk as both Frankie and her married brother appears to be attracted to the young woman.  Josse is a lousy waitress, but Frankie just takes up the slack, delighted to be noticed and encouraged, as she is when Josse notes that a customer, Heath (Jamie Harrold, "Erin Brokovich"), is attracted to her.  When Josse leaves Brad and moves in with Frankie, Nicola really goes of the deep end, getting involved with a crazy Marine, Kalani (Anthony Ruivivar, "High Art"), and increasingly heavy drinking.

Siegel and his cowriters Lisa Bazadona and Grace Woodard have fashioned an honest coming-of-age tale where the heroine views the people around her through a prism which constantly reflects different aspects of their character.  The contrast of a migratory population and the townies of an old beach resort is beautifully realized both in the writing and the images captured by cinematographer John Leuba ("Autumn Heart"). 'One more day and there will be people on this beach,' observes Nicola, bracing for the onslaught at film's beginning.

Star Ambrose is a wide-eyed observer, who in trying to establish independence, allows outside influence to cloud her judgement before regaining her footing.  Ambrose makes us care about Frankie because of the way quiet Frankie cares about everyone else.  Still Ambrose is upstaged a bit by Dundas, who has the flashier role of Nicola, the hard-bodied, dark rooted blonde with a penchant for shocking her friends and making bad choices.  Joelle Carter gives the subtlest performance as the hard-to-read, manipulative Josse.  Carter disappears into the girl others want to see, gliding through life on the entitlement of her looks.  Also chameleon like is Jamie Harrold as the drifter who courts Frankie, alternately sexy, nerdy, kind or clueless depending on Frankie's current perception.

"Swimming" may not make any waves, but its humanity runs deep.  It's a small film polished to the perfection of beach glass.


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