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Oceanside Pictures
Official Site
Director: Robert J. Siegel
Producers: Robert J. Siegel, Linda Moran
Written by: Lisa Bazadona and Robert J. Sieger & Grace Woodard
Cast: Lauren Ambrose, Jennifer Dundas Lowe, Joelle Carter, Jamie Harrold, James Villemaire, Josh Pais, Sharon Scruggs, Joshua Harto, Anthony Ruivivar


The SUNY-Purchase film program must be quite the little incubator. Earlier this year alum Ilya Chaiken’s Margarita Happy Hour hit screens. Now here’s screenwriter Lisa Bazadona’s Swimming, produced and directed by her SUNY-Purchase professor, Robert Siegel. How’s that for career guidance and nurturing? Bazadona’s tale of bored townies working shit jobs incorporates her own experiences as a summer tattoo artist in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Frankie Wheeler (Ambrose) spends her summer days waiting tables at the beachfront burger shack she co-owns with her brother, Neil (Pais), and most of her evenings hanging around the house (also co-owned), with Neil’s wife Maryanne (Scruggs) and her two nephews. On her occasional outings with piercing artist and childhood pal, Nicola (Lowe), who prides herself on being butt-wild, Frankie plays the role of loyal sidekick. Then, someone, or rather some two, come to town, with eyes only for Frankie, and the lifelong pals find their regard for each other changing.

Josee (Carter) is a femme fatale making her way through life by, as Cary Grant said to Eva Marie Saint, “using sex like a fly swatter.” She is never without a relationship and she is never in a relationship long. At the Wheeler’s burger shack, Josee quickly proves herself to be possibly the worst waitress in history, so bad that one wonders whether she’s ever even had prior experience as a customer in a restaurant, yet nobody fires her. Unbeknownst to the siblings, Josee’s swatting them both with her charms. Nicola takes an instant dislike to the newcomer, and makes rather infantile jealous displays. Despite her faults, Josee’s assessment of Nicola’s and Frankie’s “friendship” is right on the money. The other newcomer is Heath (Harrold), a nomadic cutie who sells tie-dye out of the back of his aging van, and who bonds with Frankie while feeding his dog Wheeler’s Burgers. Heath is as open and guileless as Josee is manipulative. Despite the unaccustomed embarrassment of riches, Frankie doesn’t abandon Nicola for her new admirers. It doesn’t work out, though, because Nicola, rather badly played by the way, clearly wants Frankie to choose.

There’s a bit more to Swimming than that, but the more is mostly in performance and characterization. Sure enough, Ambrose’s performance is the small gem it’s been touted as, though it’s puzzling why she alone chose not to attempt a Southern accent. Other than wanting a car, Frankie expresses no clear desires throughout the summer. Despite giving her suitors of each gender, Bazadona wrote Frankie with a refreshing lack of angst about her sexuality. She also doesn’t express unambiguous emotions, which is not a criticism. Her perpetual expression of looking unsure and out of place couldn’t be more appropriate to her way-station in life. In fact, her only moments of unmistakable delight are when she’s behind the wheel of Heath’s van. At times watching Swimming feels like, “What’s going to happen next?” and at other times it feels like, “I’ve been watching this movie for hours!” Which actually is how it feels when you’re marking time, waiting for your real life to start.

—Roxanne Bogucka


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