Lauren Ambrose's deadpan reactions often provide an anchor on the HBO series, "Six Feet Under." Whether her character, Claire Fisher, is dumping a deadbeat boyfriend or wondering who stole the embalming fluid at her family's funeral home, Ambrose suggests a teenager wise beyond her years, and frequently wiser than her flaky mother and brothers.
She gives much the same performance in "Swimming," a gracefully acted, unsentimental, quite likable little coming-of-age movie she made before she was signed by HBO.
This time she plays a slightly younger tomboy named Frankie Wheeler, and her family is in the fast-food business. Her parents have retired to Arizona and left Frankie and her brother (Josh Pais) to eke out a living flipping burgers at the beach.
Frankie and her longtime pal, Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Lowe), entertain modest hopes for their South Carolina evenings ("We gotta do something it's Friday night"), flirting with the wrong people, getting into mild trouble and appearing to end up pretty much where they started out. Nicola is so starved for excitement that when a door slams in her face, she hopes the resulting gash in her forehead will have cosmetic consequences: "You think it'll scar?"
By film's end, both girls have changed, largely because of an outsider's influence. The most dramatic character is a pretty, manipulative and quite useless waitress, Josee (Joelle Carter), who befriends Frankie and pays just enough attention to her to make Nicola jealous and to cause Frankie to wonder if Josee is coming on to her. Josee is also stringing along a lifeguard boyfriend, a married man and possibly several others.
In any other movie, she'd probably get her comeuppance, but the creators of "Swimming" don't seem to care where she lands. More important is how she strengthens Frankie and subtly alters her relationship with Nicola. It's that seemingly casual emphasis that gives the movie its unique charm.
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