Let’s get the elephant in the swimming trunks out of the way. The thing stopping this joyful underdog comedy, about a gay water polo team, from becoming a hit is that it is French and subtitled. Somewhere an eagle-eyed film exec is probably about to cash in on an American translation with a known cast and a bigger budget. If that’s too To Wong Fu for you then get in first with what is bound to be the more genuine, charming and generous version.
The Shiny Shrimps, so named because the tail is the best part of the shrimp to eat and everything shiny is just better, are a failing and not fabulous group of swimming misfits. Despite reservations about pink washing they jump at the chance to have rugged Olympic athlete Matthias Le Goff (Nicolas Gob) as their coach. Straight Le Goff, on the edge of retirement, is reluctantly trying to redeem himself after a homophobic rant at a pushy interviewer ostracizes him from the French national swim team.
The film follows a fairly predictable path of the team on their journey to the Gay Games. It is an underdog movie after all. Physical and psychological challenges are thrown down and then overcome. Personality flaws are sources of conflict and then acceptance. Life lessons are avoided and then forcibly learned. It manages, however, to balance the familiarity of the arc with the charm of character. The even-handed distribution of the drama across all the actors and story lines of a fairly large cast is a deft balancing act. The transwoman completing her transition does not trump the inexperienced youth taking his first step out of the closet. The lonely activist is not overshadowed by the extrovert slut. The creep of a terminal cancer diagnosis squeezes out the tears but does not snuff out the vibrancy of life.
The cast are great. The humanity of their emotions, the comic touch and the simplicity of the script means that reading the subtitles is effortless. While the characters definitely edge on stereotype recognize them with friendly smiles rather than yawns.
It’s not a Disney movie. There are plenty of sex jokes, bare bums and inter community slurs that the script says ‘minority privilege’ allows. The titanic grudge match between the tough Lumberjack Lesbians and the screechy Shiny Shrimps throws up a fair few gay taunts that are not supposed to pass the lips of straight people. But, as an underdog movie, it has a warm and suburban sentimental heart. The Hollywood version, if it comes, will have your mom watching it.