Thursday, May 6, 2010

Tribeca on VOD: "The Swimsuit Issue"

One thing that I didn’t mention enough during my Tribeca coverage was that several of the films in the festival are available across the country on demand—including The Infidel, Metropia, sex & drugs & rock & roll, and The Trotsky. They’re also running several films that I saw last year; this is the first time these full reviews have appeared online.

The Swimsuit Issue is an affable little comedy that reminded me, quite intentionally I’m sure, of The Full Monty; it too is the story of a crew of men, past their prime, who find a love and passion for something they probably have no business doing. It’s a likable picture, and it’s just light as a feather, which I mean as neither a dig nor a compliment. You’ll have forgotten it by the time you walk out the theatre door, and there are some moviegoers who don’t mind that at all.

It’s a Swedish film, but that’s of little concern; it’s the kind of foreign film that could feasibly do well Stateside because you could remake it in English and not change a word. Fredrik (Jonas Inde, who bears a marked resemblance to Martin Freeman from the U.K. Office) is a divorced dad and somewhat shiftless man of a certain age; one of the movie’s better running jokes is a dispute over whether he quit or was fired from his last job. His daughter Sara (Amanda Davin) is a skilled synchronized swimmer, but their relationship is touch and go; when her mother gets a job in London and has to move a few months ahead of her, Fredrik doesn’t have the highest hopes for he and his daughter’s cohabitation (“This will spoil our relationship, guaranteed,” he laments to a friend).

The set-up of their storyline is a lot more convincing than that of the primary plot. See if this tracks with you: Fredrik is putting together the bachelor party for one of his “floorball” teammates, and he sees a picture of Sara’s synchronized swimming team and says, “This is what we should do for the bachelor party!” Uh huh. So we get a sequence of easy laughs, with these middle-aged guys gallivanting around in women’s swimsuits and bathing caps, and what do you know, their videotape of it gets edited together in time for the wedding, where a rich socialite friend sees it and wants to hire the guys to come do their little routine at a fancy party. Uh huh.

At any rate, that doesn’t go so hot, but Fredrik gets a somewhat inexplicable desire for them to become a great sync swimming team, and they decide to do just that and compete at the men’s world cup in Berlin. The film’s trouble, from a narrative point of view, is that we’re not sure why Fredrik wants to do this (maybe to connect with his daughter? It’s hard to tell), and the guys seem to go along with it immediately, for reasons similarly difficult to discern. The Full Monty was bolstered by the real and definite economic impetus for those busted guys; here, there’s no urgency or motivation except that they have nothing better to do.

But they embark on this journey nonetheless, and to be fair, there are plenty of funny sequences (like a locker room scene where the guys discuss the strategy of pedicures) and good lines (“What about a normal mid-life crisis?” one of the wives complains. “Dye your hair, pierce a nipple!”). Most of it is fairly predictable (we have an inevitable appearance by that old warhorse, the training montage), but there are a few unexpected touches, like a budding romance between Sara and a younger team member that I first thought was underdeveloped, but on reflection, feels practical and matter-of-fact—just an example of life going on outside the frame.

The most interesting surprise is that the subplot—the sometimes-difficult relationship between a divorced dad and his maturing daughter—is actually more compelling than the main story. Their very tentative bond is handled with grace and sensitivity, and puts far more at stake than, say, the manufactured third-act crisis over a mix-up in the number of competing swimmers.

Director Måns Herngren orchestrates the film with smooth, appropriate professionalism, even working in some showy angles in the photography of their inevitable triumphant program (he also wisely uses some parallel shots in both the failed and successful performances). And I’ll give him kudos for one of the most admirably restrained endings I’ve seen recently; in an age where movies frequently go on and on and on, this one ends sooner than expected but no later than it needs to. The Swimsuit Issue is an easy pill to swallow; it’s charming and has much to like, entirely forgettable though it may be.

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