The Shiny Shrimps ****
Starring: Nicolas Gob, Alban Lenoir, Michaël Abiteboul, David Baïot, Romain Lancry, Roland Menou, Geoffrey Couët, Romain Brau, Félix Martinez
Directors: Maxime Govare, Cédric Le Gallo
Hot on the tail of last year’s Sink Or Swim, another swimming-based French comedy is set to arrive in UK cinemas next month, courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures. And despite the former’s critical acclaim in its homeland, I would venture this is by far the more enjoyable of the Gallic movies.
Matthias (Gob) is a professional swimmer whose competition in international events is compromised by using a homophobic slur against a journalist on TV. The swimming council agree to let him continue to compete, but only if he volunteers with a LGBT sports team to prove that he is repentant for his actions. Cue his arrival as the new coach for the Shiny Shrimps, a LGBT water-polo team hoping to qualify for the Gay Games in Croatia. They are loud, crude and flamboyant and Matthias initially just allows them to continue their mischief, but when his young daughter meets and adores them and he realises that their captain Jean (Lenoir) is dying of cancer, he becomes invested in their reaching and winning the championship.
This is a campy, silly film based on a true story that relies heavily on the chemistry of its ensemble, which is luckily its biggest strength. The team is filled with hilarious characters, each with their own flaws and complex motivations, but when together create something far greater than just the sum of its parts. There’s Cedric (Abiteboul) the new single father who has to lie to his partner about the competition, Joël (Menou) the older acidic queen fixated on his past with ACT UP, the tragically promiscuous Xavier (Couët), the heart-broken Alex (Baïot), the whimsically feeble Vincent (Martinez) who is also their strongest swimmer and Fred (Brau), a trans woman more concerned with the dance routine for the closing ceremony than their actual participation in the contest. Matthias finds them infuriatingly inane until he realises that it’s their fraternity within this sporting community that helps them in their daily lives.
There would have been plenty of room for this to descend fully into a fish-out-of-water comedy, experiencing a colourful minority group through the eyes of a straight white man, but it thankfully doesn’t rest too heavily on this trope, instead positioning the crux of the narrative with the team who have to accept him rather than vice versa. Using montage with great aplomb (although with not the greatest choices for an accompanying soundtrack), we see their deepening relationships and improving skill. Eccentric though this may be, this is still a sports movie and it consequently ascribes to a fairly generic structure, but with comedic vignettes and strong interwoven character storylines. It’s the juxtaposition of extreme camp with the most masculine of movie genres that makes this succeed so well.
You’ll find yourself falling in love with this band of unusual misfits, who are individually deeply flawed but together are adorably charming. Matthias isn’t too much of a dinosaur to make his reinvention seem unlikely (plus it helps for the baying pack of shrimps that he’s certainly not ugly) and so the film finds that delicate balance between masculinity and campness, minority and majority just right. There are times when we spend too long on the sport than on the characters (yes I know it’s a sports movie, but that’s not really what we’re watching for), but as they cross the country together on a bus, with Fred’s extravagant outfits blowing in the wind (hello Priscilla reference), it feels pretty magical, fun and shiny. Like a shrimp. Although I’ve never actually seen a shrimp shine.