‘Pain is weakness leaving the body’
The mid-life crisis continues to provide fresh ideas for scripts and films worldwide. Analysing this desperate time of men’s lives opens the door to the exasperating moment when people look up from the desks and say, ‘There has to be more to this life.’ The premise for director Oliver Parker’s (Dad’s Army) newest film, Swimming with Men, could not seem to be more ridiculous a concept, but is loosely based on a true story. A group of middle-aged men who decided to protest the status quo of synchronised swimming and prove that men could perform in the water as well as women and even establish an international competition. Told initially in the Swedish documentary Men Who Swim, Parker decides to dive into the pools of England for his outing.
Eric Scott (Rob Brydon) has progressed up the corporate ladder of his accounting firm, but lately he has failed to find any challenges in the workplace. When his wife, Heather (Jane Horrocks), is elected to the local city council, Eric begins to feel that his role as a husband and father diminished. Then when he starts to suspect that she is having an affair with her new boss, things unravel at home and he decides to take a break from his family. During this challenging time of self-imposed difficulties, the one thing that brings him peace and solace is his daily swim. While he trying to drown his sorrows, he takes notice of an odd bunch of men who practise in the pool for what looks like synchronised swimming.
Soon he is swept into the appealing atmosphere of male camaraderie and unique athleticism where he proves to be gifted. Between his knack for maths and strength for treading water, Eric proves to be a valuable part of this eccentric group of swimmers. The novelty of their team receives local attention and due to their passion for the sport, they are encouraged to enter the international competition in Milan. As training and expectations begin to increase on the tight-knit group of men, they must discover how deep they are willing to go in their relationships and skills to succeed on the world stage.
It is a wonder how this film even got the production green light, but this quirky tale does have enough appeal to make it worth jumping into the pool. The heart of the pool is found in the relational ties between these broken men who manage to be made whole by their daily water activities. The inherent ludicrous nature of this sport leads to a multitude of points of physical comedy, but it is the friendships that come through these men that delivered the best parts of the film. Rob Brydon is the initial spark to this atypical cast, but he is complemented wonderfully by the supporting antics of Rupert Graves, Daniel Mays, Jim Carter, Adeel Akhtar and Charlotte Riley. For the cast to be willing to get into the pool with their well-worn middle-aged bodies shows that this team is ready to put themselves entirely into the roles with abandon and full transparency.
When the men get outside of the pool, this is where the weaknesses in the script become apparent. The believability of Eric Scott’s mid-life meltdown fails to garner much sympathy, because most of his pain is self-inflicted. He comes off a selfish prig and his lack of support for his family undermines the screenplay and makes it hard to cheer on the lead character. Even with the fun of the training and competition in the pool, his life choices are less than excusable and makes the final scene implausible and try hard.
Swimming with Men is a water-based film that may not set any Olympic records, but it does provide enough to stay afloat for anyone going through this stage of life. It will provide a few laughs and hopefully motivate men to appreciate the life they have been given.
REEL DIALOGUE: What is the value of male friendships?
What is the value of a circle of friends? Films about mid-life crises have become a mainstay in western cinema. The value that Swimming with Men provides is a glimpse into the value of the felt need for friendships.
Solomon writes of friendship in this manner, “two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” This is one encouraging passage amongst many that speak to the value of friendship and how God is the author of this beautiful gift to humanity.
1. What does God have to say about friendship? (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, Proverbs 18:24)
2. Does God want to be our friend? (Genesis 3)
3. Does God care about my life? (Matthew 6: 8, 26)