As you might guess, both the two-years-running festival fave Swimming and the by-the-numbers Hollywood stalker-clash Swimfan give water metaphors big play. Swimming is a being-of-age story in the measured tradition of 1993’s Ruby in Paradise, sporting a similarly reserved breakthrough lead performance. Before Ashley Judd was a Ya Ya Sister she was, of course, Ruby; and before Lauren Ambrose was a Six Feet Under firestarter, she was Myrtle Beach’s forgotten girl, Frankie. Just as Ruby left the inland sticks to work retail by the seaside, Frankie, raised on the beach and working with her gruff brother in their retired parents’ restaurant, wonders about heading the other direction. She avoids the water, which symbolizes both suffocation and change. Surrounded by bikinis and neon, she opts for striped breakaways and ravey sag. Knocking around with her pierced-up pal Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Lowe) is as metronomic as the everyday wave action. That is, until two catalysts arrive. Sexy Josee (Joelle Carter), the new waitress, takes a shine to Frankie, and the ensuing frisson brings sweet, lolling excitement.
Their kiss-play languor changes shape with the arrival of a princely slacker (Jamie Harrold), who also has a thing for Frankie, though it’s never really clear what that thing is. But that’s the pleasure of this script, underthought in the best sense. As relationships shift, director Robert J. Siegel allows the characters to inhabit their world without cleaving to a narrative arc. It’s a luxurious hangout; spaces burgeon with goofy love and generous confusion. Like Ruby, Frankie is an old soul, a listener, a watcher, protective of her personal space. She’s no wide-eyed naïf, but a woman who understands the charisma of quietude, just barely aware of her considerable power, sexual and otherwise. She lets the world project its wishes onto her until provoked to risk expression. And with Ambrose, that expression is always luminous—caught in a 400 Blows freeze when the camera leaves her to her future.
Swimfan is a teensploit Fatal Attraction, complete with an angel, a slut, SUVs, lacy panties, and several Ethan Allen living room sets. And as all boilerplate stalker movies must, it keeps going and going and going. The Energizer bunny this time is Erika Christensen’s Madison Bell (no relation to the novelist, believe me), a mysterious newcomer who moves into town to raise its hemline, saw maniacally on the cello, and rain hellfire upon high school swim champ Ben Cronin (Jesse Bradford), his adoring steady (Shiri Appleby), and his expendable (alas) rival Josh (Clayne Crawford). The lesson for beleaguered men remains the same: Don’t cheat with someone less attractive than your wife/girlfriend. Clog her inbox and she’ll clog yours, man. Other than the so often omitted moment of pre-screw boner-approval (“It will be our little secret, Oh, maybe not so little!”), nothing plot-wise is worth e-mailing home about. But director John Polson’s surging pace, double-flip edits, nu-metal bash-ins, and copious jump-fucks make a sure-handed tempest in this teacup. And the pool water, third party to Ben and Madison’s one ill-advised fling as well as their last-gasp struggle and Ophelian exit, is memorably palpable, an amniotic liqui-gel as viscously ominous as the Blob.