A real comic find, “The Big, Bad Swim” manages to remain consistently funny while hitting emotional truths and without stumbling into any sitcom cliches. At 96 minutes, talented helmer Ishai Setton’s good-looking tale of adults facing their fear of water has a rhythm that feels just right. Smoothly flowing pic is also the best bigscreen workout yet for the sexy and sublimely well-timed thesp Paget Brewster. Low-key distribbers should get into the “Swim” asap.
Usually cast in caustic supporting roles (most memorably as the boss in “Andy Richter Controls the Universe”), Brewster plays Amy Pierson here. She is a whip-smart cookie wasting her talents as a high school calculus teacher and as the wife of her philandering colleague Paul (Grant Aleksander), whose on-campus canoodling threatens to force her out of a job she hates anyway.
Amy’s short-term solution is to join an adult swim class, where a motley assortment of ages, shapes and backgrounds can be found struggling with various anxieties. Among them are a macho cop (Kevin Porter Young), a pretty, full of herself princess (Terria Joseph), and a blustery businessman (Todd Sussman), who is learning to swim before building a fancy pool in his backyard.
The class is taught by Noah Owens (quietly magnetic Jeff Branson), a hunky former Olympic hopeful now wracked by insecurities that have left him disconnected from just about everybody but his therapist (Joanna Adler). He eventually yields, at least a little, to the persistent attentions of student Jordan (Jess Weixler), an offbeat beauty who works both as a croupier at a nearby casino and, more problematically, as a part-time stripper.
Daniel Schechter’s incisive script focuses at least as much, however, on Jordan’s unlikely friendship with Amy, who is genuinely up for new experiences — including a rather tentative sexual connection with young gambler (Michael Mosley).
Meanwhile, Jordan’s younger brother (helmer Setton’s own sibling, Avi Setton) wants to profile his sis on camera for a high school project, although goofy project partner Hunter (Ricky Ullman) takes a growing obsession with Jordan to new voyeuristic lows.
Even this familiar film-within-a-film is given an amusingly fresh angle, and in general, “Swim” sets up expectations that are cleverly dashed at every turn. Whole tale, filled with faces familiar from American TV, is virtually villain-free, depicting even Amy’s dopey husband as more selfish boob than outright antagonist.
The pic also gets good value for the money, emphasizing blue-tinged elements of neatly geometric settings — both in the pool and out — as well as making good use of rarely seen environs of Old Lyme, Conn. Atmospheric application of guitar-based tunes also helps, while steering clear of the obvious emo strokes found in youth-aimed indies.