San Diego Union-Tribune
|'Swimming' a savvy slice of real life
"Maybe not since Julie Harris' Frankie in "A Member of the Wedding" (1952) have we cared this much about a "plain" girl's fate and wanted her to make the right choices."
By David Elliot
'Swimming" is the best movie of its type since "Ruby in Paradise" (1993) or at least "Whatever" (1998). But what type is that?
It's the type about a few modern people in a completely valid, real-life situation, acted just about to perfection. It doesn't have effects, guns or space critters. In "Swimming," it's about a young woman in Myrtle Beach, S.C., swimming against the tides of her mundane life and self-esteem.
Frankie (Lauren Ambrose) thinks herself homely. It doesn't help that she tends to dress like a couch potato or plowboy, or that a smug lifeguard calls her "ugly as a crab." She's rather doughy, with very pink skin, red hair and a terrific button face Ambrose, star of HBO's "Six Feet Under," has a quiet, blooming accuracy and direct appeal that rivals Ashley Judd in "Ruby in Paradise."
Frankie inherited a burger cafe near the beach, along with older brother Neil (Josh Pais, who is crablike). Married and harried, he treats her as a waitress and fixture. She chokes down anger, dreams of change. It's the sort of scene where the key come-on sign offers "Cool A/C," and Frankie thinks, "If I had a car, my life would be completely different."
Change blows in. The new waitress Josee (Joelle Carter) is a tall "looker," a drool dream but smart, with a snap of chic. She has a succulent assurance, and when she strides into the surf, the ocean moans.
To the jealous fury of her man-grabby, spitfire chum, Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Lowe), Frankie is awed by Josee. Her mousey interest in men starts to slide we guess that this canny slice-of-lifer is becoming a laf-er (lesbian agenda film).
Not so fast. Savvy director Robert J. Siegel and his co-writers keep the story subtle and us in suspense. Nobody is perfect here, and nobody is a complete creep. A nice guy (Jamie Harrold) invites Frankie to "get baked" on his bong, but proves to be more than a post-hippie cliche.
This is the opposite of an overloaded clunker like "Pumpkin." We can feel the sand between our toes and follow the shifting sand of Frankie's feelings. Maybe not since Julie Harris' Frankie in "A Member of the Wedding" (1952) have we cared this much about a "plain" girl's fate and wanted her to make the right choices.
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