- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

The small-scale and unrewarding independent features "Swimming" and "Tadpole" were made years and miles apart. Their simultaneous release this weekend calls attention to duds-in-a-pod affinities, starting with the titles and tanking with the plots, which concern the sexual initiations of a virginal girl and boy, respectively.
Lauren Ambrose, cast as Frankie Wheeler, the teenage protagonist of "Swimming," probably will be reminded of how lucky she was to join the "Six Feet Under" ensemble. "Swimming" was shot on location in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 1998 and has taken so long to get into circulation that her TV series is its best hope of attracting interest on the rebound.
There's not much to sustain interest, although director Robert J. Siegel, on leave from a faculty post in the film studies department at the State University of New York in Purchase, does some desperate lobbying for prurient appeal.
Frankie works in a boardwalk diner inherited from her parents in partnership with an older married brother named Neal (Josh Pais). A brash and evidently lifelong friend, Nicola (Jennifer Dundas Lowe), operates the piercing parlor next door. She also acts as sexually knowing and experienced as Frankie is hesitant and inexperienced.
Neither is in the league of a transient opportunist named Josee (Joelle Carter), who gets a job as a waitress at the diner but often neglects it, partly to reserve time for seducing the helpless Neal some nights and teasing the fascinated Frankie on others. The younger girl deflects a few passes while sharing her room occasionally.
There's one pictorially charged interlude in the movie: a night shot of Miss Carter, an impressive camera subject, sprinting impulsively into the waves. Josee appears to enjoy both the sensation and the effect she might be having on witnesses, namely Frankie. That gesture carries more poetic impact as an indication of her troublemaking drives than the literal snippets of predatory or complacent sex.
Frankie Wheeler lacks the precocious eloquence of Carson McCullers' Frankie Adams in "The Member of the Wedding," so Miss Ambrose needs to anchor the conception with a shy and then glowing presence rather than passionately articulated talk. I think she does as well as anyone could with an inescapably thankless task under haphazard management.
The story would be better if Frankie of Myrtle Beach also had a sounding board or two, rather than deferring as a matter of course to the motormouths and mercenary glamour girls. Reticence doesn't seem to win her much in the way of a fleeting consort: Jamie Harrold as a goofy vendor named Heath, whose van seems better suited to getting stoned and getting sick than any other potential sensations.
"Swimming" appears to have surfaced at numerous film festivals, including a handful of lesbian and gay showcases, presumably a tribute to Josee's inconclusive advances. Miss Ambrose even won a grand jury prize for outstanding actress at the Los Angeles Out Fest. There may be a grapevine that helps the movie along here and there by exaggerating its "out"-ness.
Clearly, it suffers from a shortage of adequacy; every discernible angle should expose the need for character development. Don't expect much interference if you would prefer a movie that lets the mind wander.

TITLE: "Swimming"
RATING: No MPAA rating (Adult subject matter and treatment, with occasional profanity and sexual candor)
CREDITS: Directed by Robert J. Siegel. Written by Lisa Bazadona, Grace Woodard and Mr. Siegel.
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

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