Swimming With Men review: Rob Brydon's charm keeps this formulaic comedy afloat
Dir: Oliver Parker. Cast: Rob Brydon, Charlotte Riley, Rupert Graves, Jim Carter, Daniel Mays, Nathaniel Parker, Thomas Turgoose, Jane Horrocks, Peter Coe, Adfeel Akhtar, Steve Carroll. 12A cert, 97 mins
There’s a throwback quality to Swimming with Men, an ensemble Britcom that’s near-unthinkable without the success 20 years ago of The Full Monty. In place of Robert Carlyle ripping off his pants, we here get Rob Brydon as a depressed accountant, putting all cares of job and marriage aside while he treads water in goggles to complete a synchronised swimming team.
The eight Londoners involved, all shapes and sizes and ages, include one member who’s helpfully both brown and gay (a very affable Adfeel Akhtar), but the diversity feels more shruggingly casual than calculated, and it’s the warmth and bonhomie buzzing between them that consistently lift the material.
Massively formulaic it may be, right down to the inescapable third-act contest abroad, but the film is further proof of what easygoing places Oliver Parker’s sets are. From An Ideal Husband to the St Trinian’s films, he’s built an underrated career on knowing the precise charm levels of his actors in most circumstances, and when a variation on their shtick could come in handy. (He even throws his brother Nathaniel a semi-villainous part as a smarmy local councillor.)
It’s the kind of film where you could easily struggle to remember any character’s name the next day, but ought to concede, moment to moment, what a good job Rupert Graves is doing in the Rupert Graves role (a dishy, regretful divorcé who thinks his best years are behind him); what a hard-to-impress asset Charlotte Riley is on the sidelines; and how well the film manages the potential problem of Jane Horrocks, modulating shrillness with sadness as a tense wife making a fretful move into local politics.
As human punchlines, Jim Carter and This is England’s Thomas Turgoose horsing around together at the poolside get a lot of smiles: the repeated, failed attempts to flip Turgoose through the air as the crowning finale to their much-rehearsed routine means watching him bellyflop repeatedly with a Turgoosian grimace. And that, I’m telling you, is droll.
So is the moment in background blur when a clown at a children’s party gets pulled haplessly into a Lido. Easy routines, sure, but the timing is crisp, and the editing, zipping us through the lethargy of the setup, looks alive.
From top to bottom, it’s Brydon’s film, and his performance matches the modesty of the surroundings: rarely pushing too hard, he finds just the right groove as a browbeaten Everyman lacking spring in his step (or dash in his breaststroke).
Like many of the best-loved leads in British comedy, he seems to have tumbled into the position by accident, and here he finds himself: fronting a vehicle that shares with all these men the solid attitude of being middling and proud of it.