Movie Review: Depressed Frenchmen synchronize their lives “Sink or Swim”


Did you see the British comedy “Swimming With Men?” It was a twee but melancholy Rob Brydon/Jim Carter vehicle, a “Full Monty” set against a synchronized swimming story.

“Sink or Swim” is the same movie, more or less, set in France. They don’t credit each other, don’t share a screenwriter and came out at roughly the same time — last year.

They share a story arc, story beats and the characters are eerily similar if just different enough to dodge EU plagiarism lawsuits.

Coincidence or not, if you’ve seen the first (released in the U.S. first), there’s no need to see the second, unless you’re polishing up your French or have an undying passion to see anything Mathieu Amalric or Guillaume Canet star in.

Both are about downtrodden men who bond in the pool, underwater and in the locker room or bar after practice.

Everybody is dealing with something. Men tend to suffer the trials of life — a long bout of unemployment, a failing business, a job that is being replaced by a computer, unhappy or strained marriages — by themselves.

As in “The Full Monty,” their self-esteem is boosted when they are given connections, a purpose and a far-fetched goal.

Truth be told, the best bits of both might get one combined me toscript in the general ball park of “Full Monty.” The French/Belgian co-production tries more ideas out, and is almost half an hour longer to prove it. Like the characters it portrays, neither “water ballet” comedy truly stands up on its own.

Amalric (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) is Bertrand, father of two, long-unemployed, with a most indulgent wife (Marina Foïs) and a far less indulgent, contemptuous teen.

He has to bike to job interviews because his wife is supporting them and needs the car. He’s in the habit of piling his daily depression pills into his bowl of cereal for breakfast.

A flyer recruiting swimmers for this “team” at the local pool gets his interest. He walks in just as Laurent (Canet, recently seen in “Non-Fiction,” but in “Farewell,” “Joyeux Noel,” and many other films) is throwing another tantrum.

Laurent is forever on edge and venting his frustration onto others for it. We get a hint of why when we see him chew out a doctor working with his stuttering son. That marriage is not long for this world.

The chipper Thierry (Philippe Katerine), “Titi,” maintains the public pool, a lonely, loveless man who still manages a smile in a life without hope.

Marcus (Benoît Poelvoorde) is older, delusional about the pool selling business he’s under water in. Simon is a divorced, 50ish rock guitarist who serves at his daughter’s high school cafeteria, embarrassing her no end. And so on.

Everybody here is dealing with something. That includes the upbeat, nurturing (to outside eyes, anyway) coach, Delphine (Virginie Efira). She reads the guys poetry as part of the coaching, and she’s very protective of this support group.

“What the hell are you doing here?” she demands of Bertrand, before counseling all seven swimmers to “find our inner woman.”

Delphine used to be a competitive synchronized swimmer. Her past, “an incident,” is why she’s doing this, now.

The men must develop grace and practice holding their breath. And once they discover, online, that they’re not alone, they have another goal.

This business of men taking up a women’s sport (the subject of some abuse) has taken hold all over Europe (in Britain, too, of course). The “world championships” will be in Norway.


“Swimming with Men” did a much better job of setting up the “discovery” of the sport and the team. “Sink or Swim” is more obvious in its “The Full Monty” borrowings.

Truthfully, the French film manages a grin or two in the first hour. But its first real laugh is when a furious wheelchair-bound martinet (Leïla Bekhti) shows up to take over the training.

Amanda puts the “slap” into slapstick and the tough love into pushing Team France.

“We just want to take part,” they plead. “Miss Ironsides” isn’t having it.

“Sink or Swim” goes down for the second time before she shows up, and founders for the third time despite her arrival.

It’s well-acted and broadly sympathetic, but a time-killer of a comedy that kills too much time for its own good.


MPAA Rating: unrated, profanity, pill abuse

Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Guillaume Canet, Benoît Poelvoorde, Virginie Efira, Marina Foïs, Leïla Bekhti, Philippe Katerine

Credits: Directed by Gilles Lellouche, script by Ahmed Hamidi, Julien Lambroschini and Gilles Lellouche. A Level Film/Studio Canal release.

Running time: 1:59

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