There's no "p" in Judge Erich Asperschlager's "ool"
"A synchronized comedy"
In the spirit of any number of recent British working class comedies, Swedish film The Swimsuit Issue does for male synchronized swimming what The Full Monty did for out-of-shape English blokes getting their kit off. It hits DVD on this side of the Atlantic courtesy of Tribeca Film, the distribution arm of the New York film festival.
Facts of the Case
When their gym practice time is handed over to an all-girls hockey team, Fredrik and his floorball-playing friends are forced to look for something new to occupy their time. Inspired by a goofy bachelor party night at the local pool, and the girls' swim team that Fredrik's estranged daughter belongs to, the guys embark on an unlikely quest to become Sweden's only all-male synchronized swim team—representing their country at the sport's World Cup in Berlin.
The Swimsuit Issue follows the same playbook as any number of underdog sports comedies. It centers around a divorced dad who rallies his group of friends around an idea that sounds ridiculous at first but eventually proves life-changing for all involved. Along the way, they face opposition from unsupportive loved ones, authority figures, rivals and plot contrivances that threaten to destroy everything they've worked for. In the end, they beat the odds, emerge triumphant, and grow closer to friends and family.
The Swimsuit Issue isn't original, but neither are most inspirational sports-related movies. To its credit, it goes against the grain in several key areas. In most of these movies, the central character is a good guy who just happens to be down on his luck. In this movie, he's a jerk. When we meet Fredrik, he's a terrible father who cares more about acting like a kid than the well-being of his teenaged daughter. Fredrik isn't just forgetful and uninvolved, he's selfish. He doesn't think twice about taking his daughter Sara's swimsuit without asking, just so he can amuse his drinking buddies at a bachelor's party. He tries to get out of taking care of her for a few months while his ex-wife sorts out a new job in London. And he cheats at foosball. Although they turn their relationship around in predictably short order—going from near strangers to best friends thanks to a shared love of synchronized swimming—it's rare to see the protagonist start out so unlikable.
Most sports movies finish with a competition whose outcome is a foregone conclusion. The Swimsuit Issue bucks that trend by showing off the group's full routine not in the World Cup competition, but in an exhibition performance about two-thirds through the film. By getting the big scene out of the way early, The Swimsuit Issue lets its finale be more about characters than competition. Even with the series of contrivances that set up the dramatic conclusion, the film ends with a scene that's both unexpected and emotionally satisfying.
The Swimsuit Issue has a lot in common with The Full Monty, from the comic tone and musical montages to the cast of characters. Divorced dad who recently lost his job? Check. Guy who almost leaves the group because of his job? Check. The ringer? Check. Overweight best friend who's insecure about his ability to perform? You betcha. It's also one of very few movies to champion the equal rights of middle-aged white men. The Full Monty equated downsizing with emasculation, and male stripping with empowerment. The Swimsuit Issue has none of those underlying themes. It's more about a bunch of guys who need to find a new hobby when they lose their floor hockey time. It's certainly not fair when the girls' swim coach (Sweden's answer to Sue Sylvester) blocks the guys from the gym pool, and there's a nice moment of gender pride when they realize that synchronized swimming began as an all-male sport—but getting sideways glances for wanting to wear swim caps and float in a flower formation is hardly a Civil Rights milestone.
Even with its predictable story beats, The Swimsuit Issue is a well-made indie film that adds up to more than its familiar parts thanks to believable performances and an uplifting story that feels sincere. Lots of these movies are manipulative, taking audiences through a carefully constructed gauntlet of dramatic moments, engineered to maximize the welling of tears and soaring of hearts. There are plenty of cliched moments in this movie, but they smack more of naivete than cynicism. It makes a difference.
The Swimsuit Issue is presented on DVD with a balanced 2.35:1 transfer that emphasizes natural lighting over flashiness and detail. The 2.0 stereo audio is crisp, ably handling both the dialogue (in Swedish) and the indie music soundtrack. My only complaint about the presentation is that the subtitled lines are grouped together, meaning you'll often read what someone says long before they actually say it.
The disc comes with two brief extras. In "My Tribeca Story," director Mans Herngren packs a lot of information into two minutes—about working with co-writer Jane Magnusson, having the actors do all their own swimming, the difficulties of film comedy, and the reception the film got in both Sweden and America. The three minute "Interview with The Swimsuit Issue Team" features Herngren, Magnusson, and Jonas Inde, who plays Fredrik, going into a little more detail about making the film.
The Swimsuit Issue is a formulaic but charming underdog movie, buoyed by strong performances and a focus on a sport that's gone largely unnoticed by the film industry since Esther Williams hung up her one-piece.
More dog paddle than crawl stroke, but hey…it floats. Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Video
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