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Reeling Reviews

"Swimming" is a heartfelt tale of becoming an adult in the new millennium
Robin 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."

Frankie Wheeler (Lauren Ambrose) is not a typical teenager. She grew up in a resort town in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and, when her parents decided to retire to Arizona, she and her brother Neil (Josh Pais) are left as owners of a diner and bar. When a new waitress, Josee (Joelle Carter), shows up things are about to change all around for Frankie in "Swimming."

Director Robert J. Siegel, working from his script with Lisa Bazadona and Grace Woodard, tells a warm, intelligent coming of age story that deals with real life issues such as sexual identity, growing up, peer pressure, sexual pressure, business pressure and the absolute necessity of having a really nice car. Frankie may be different from most kids her age, but she faces the same life-altering decisions.

There is a triangle of sorts when Josee arrives on the scene. Suddenly, Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Lowe), Frankie's best friend "forever" who runs a piercing shop next to the diner, finds herself playing third fiddle when the three girls have a night on the town. Nicola doesn't handle Josee's attentions to Frankie too well as she strike out, in anger, at her friend. Instead of making things better, Nicola makes them worse by alienating Frankie and her family. Then, a stranger rolls into town, a young man named Heath (Jamie Harrold) and his dogs, and things get really interesting in Frankie Wheeler's life.

"Swimming" is a heartfelt tale of becoming an adult in the new millennium, about understanding new ideas and having an open mind. Frankie is an observer of the life around her at Myrtle Beach. Surrounded by beautiful people in scanty clothes, she wears T-shirts and overalls and disdains worrying about her looks. Josee sees the underlying woman and is attracted to Frankie even as she carries on a perfunctory sexual relationship with a local stud, Brad (James Villemaire).

Oftentimes, teen coming-of-age movies rely on sex, nudity, drugs and foul language to entertain (not necessarily educate) their target audience. "Swimming," fortunately is different in its intelligent approach to the subject. Sure, there is sex, drugs (a little pot smoking) and alcohol in the film but all within the realm of context. There is not prurient titillation, but there is sharp dialog and smart pacing that follows Frankie through her formative days. Josee openly shows her affection for Frankie and revels in the aggravation she is causing Nicola. And, while we're not talking Oscar-winning acting, the young caste is likable and attractive.

Techs couldn't be better for a little film with a largely unknown cast. John Leuba's crisp and clear lensing helps move things along without resorting to the annoying, "realistic" hand held camera with all its jerky movement. Costuming, by Laura Sewrey, nicely handles the look of a warm weather resort beach town with all its trendy denizens and the contrast between butch-dressing Frankie, ultra feminine and sexy Josee and slutty looking Nicola. It's not a perfect film - at one point, Frankie greets her sister-in-law and her kids coming in from the beach - in the middle of the night, but you can forgive it its minor flaws.

"Swimming" is geared to a youthful fem audience that I would recommend for mature adolescents and older. The solid filmmaking and convincing characters makes this a high water mark for this genre. I give it a B.

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