Sure, the sport has made fleeting appearances in films like Mermaids, Gattaca, Ordinary People, and, for the real film buffs out there, Burt Lancasters little-seen drama of over 30 years ago, The Swimmer.
But surfing has Blue Crush, Point Break, Big Wednesday, and In Gods Hands.
Running has Pre, Without Limits, Personal Best, and Chariots of Fire. Cycling has Breaking Away and Quicksilver.
So where are the definitive swimming movies?
It was with this question in mind that I attended the premiere of 20th Century Foxs new movie, Swimfan, held recently at an Olympic-sized swimming pool at the UCLA campus. I had waited years for this: a movie with not just Swim in the title (Swimming with Sharks, Swimming to Cambodia, for example), but one with swimming as an integral part of the plot.
Surely, I thought, here was a chance for Hollywood to present the world with a portrayal of a sport that deserved some long-overdue recognition and publicity.
The plot of the movie (which opened nationwide on Sept. 6) had me a little worried, though I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt (beggars cant be choosers). In a nutshell, high school swimmer Ben Cronin has it all: a high GPA, a devoted girlfriend, and a coveted scholarship to Stanford University much like I did in my own high school career (well, one out of three aint bad ... I had the scholarship to Stanford).
Then, one day, Madison Bell appears. Madison is the new girl in town, but you know shes a bad apple because she dresses like Britney Spears in the Hit Me One More Time video even though she doesnt go to a Catholic Girls school. Madison sets her deranged sights on Ben, and a Fatal Attraction-style series of events lead to adultery, betrayal, anabolic steroid use, and of course, (gasp!) murder.
As more of an authority on swimming than I am a movie critic, Ill stay away from reviewing Swimfan and let the above plot speak for itself. Those who find merit in watching such melodrama are probably the films intended demographic anyway, and there is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying a little exploitation in the name of Speedo swimsuits if its done with style and tongue-in-cheek fun.
Unfortunately, Swimfans biggest laughs are unintentional, especially for those of us familiar with competitive swimming and blessed with even the littlest dose of common sense.
Below is a partial list of a few oversights, misconceptions, and fallacies that the producers of Swimfan could have avoided had they consulted the swim pages of Active.com.
Granted, one should not complain about Swimfan given the dearth of swimming-related entertainment in the marketplace. But when the most exciting part of a movie premiere is anything but the movie, you know youre in trouble.
20th Century Fox pulled out all stops for the event, claiming it was the first Pool Premiere Party in history. A bevy of models was hired to wear Speedo swimsuits in the pool and during a pre-movie fashion show (on a floating runway in the pool). Caterers and staff (dressed as swim coaches, complete with stopwatches) supplied food, beverages, and towels if guests were inclined to get wet.
A giant screen built at the far end of the 50-meter outdoor facility made for a pleasant movie-watching experience, even though the best seats in the house were understandably in the pool.
As opulent an extravaganza as it was, there was no denying that Swimfan was in need of an "authentic fitness" reality check. While it will certainly not be remembered as the worst movie ever made, calling Swimfan the best swimming movie ever made would be faint praise, however accurate.
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