Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Frankie Goes to Myrtle Beach: "Swimming" (2002)



When a film is described as a "bittersweet coming-of-age story," that usually marks my intention to either shut it off ten minutes in or fast forward to any nudity that might present itself. In the case of "Swimming," I was hooked immediately and did not want it to end.

Frankie (Lauren Ambrose) is a red-headed tomboy who lives with her brother Neil (Josh Pais) and his wife Marianne (Sharon Scruggs) and their children. Frankie and Neil own a restaurant and failing bar in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, trying to make ends meet until the busy summer tourist season hits. Frankie's best friend, wild child Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Rowe) runs a body piercing shop next door, but both want something more from their station in life.

The crowds arrive and in walks Josee (Joelle Carter), hot girlfriend of lifeguard Brad (James Villemaire), who lands a waitressing job in the restaurant based more on her looks than actual customer service skills. Josee and Frankie immediately grow closer, as friends and possibly more, and a jealous Nicola throws herself at Kalani (Anthony Ruivivar), a strange Marine who has an imaginary friend named Ted. As Josee plays fast and loose with Frankie's confused emotions, tie-dye T-shirt salesman Heath (Jamie Harrold) charms his way into Frankie's life. Frankie dumps the controlling Nicola as a friend, and must sort out her feelings for Josee and Heath.

In a brief interview on the DVD, co-writer/director Robert J. Siegel smartly acknowledges that while there have been many coming-of-age films before, this one is different because the viewer can associate with Frankie on a deeper level than other characters in those other films. Siegel is completely correct. He even mentions he was a little nerdy like Frankie when he was growing up. I felt a connection with Frankie as well, since all these flawed characters in her life made sure to take time out to tell Frankie what a failure she was, in a masochistic effort to improve their self image...trust me, Frankies of the world, it never seems to end.

Lauren Ambrose is almost too beautiful as Frankie, but an "Ugly Betty"-looking actress might have brought out comical touches that are not needed. Siegel's deft casting is nothing short of excellent. Ambrose and the rest are so natural in their roles it hurts. There is no scenery chewing or awkward improv, the cast is perfectly attuned to the script and their craft appears effortless.

Siegel's direction is also simple. He does not glamorize the beautiful locations, or pump up the visuals due to a low confidence in the script. The locations are so authentic, and the art direction and set design so real, the viewer is able to give the characters their fullest attention. The soundtrack is full of songs that also have a small town reality to them, serving as an appropriate song score to Frankie's life.

"Swimming" is a treasure, with wonderful characters I quickly came to care about. There are not any shootouts, no extended "today I am now a woman" sex scenes, or easily edited monologues that can be shown at awards ceremonies. This is a brief look at one young woman's experiences, and I for one am glad we could come along. (* * * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Swimming