Monday, August 13, 2007


Noah Owens (Jeff Branson, TV’s All My Children) teaches an adult swim class at night, a class composed mostly of people who, at best, don’t know how to swim, and at worst, are deathly afraid of the water.
Off the bat, the point of The Big Bad Swim is clear: learning to swim as a metaphor for dealing with life. Even the film’s tag line doesn’t mince words: “Life Is About Keeping Your Head Above Water.”
It’s to the credit of writer Daniel Schechter and director Ishai Setton that the film avoids schmaltzy Hollywood waters and actually turns out to be one of those great little pictures that everyone should see.

Though we’re introduced at the top of the film to a bunch of students ranging from a couple married for 27 years who’ve decided to take the swim class because they’ve just had a new pool installed (Todd Susman and Darla Hill) to a cop scared stiff of the water (Kevin Porter Young), the film focuses largely on high school teacher Amy Pierson (Paget Brewster), casino dealer/stripper Jordan Gallagher (Jess Weixler), and Noah.
A narrative device the film uses to help move the story along is the video documentary being shot by Jordan’s brother David (Avi Setton) and his best friend Hunter (Phil of the Future himself, Ricky Ullman), who happen to be Amy’s students.

There is an honest and understated approach to the material in The Big Bad Swim that is refreshing, unlike the overblown flourishes of your average studio drama. Here, we have real people, lonely and looking for connections (even if they’re not conscious of it), dealing with the daily travails of life as best they can, struggling against the fear: of failure, of rejection, of uncertainty.
There are no Hollywood Big Moments in this film: no births, no deaths, no weddings, no divorces, no massive conflicts, no massive reconciliations. If there is any Hollywood narrative convention here, it may very well be the presence of the Dog.
But even Pizza (who plays Noah’s recently rescued dog, “Danger”) is an inspired bit of casting, as he (or she; I’m uncertain as to Pizza’s gender) is a brilliant example of canine understatement. Pizza gets a whole heck of a lot of mileage from just sitting around, looking mopey and put-upon.
And Pizza is merely the tip of the iceberg where excellent and understated performances are concerned. Most of the cast (particularly Branson, Brewster, and Weixler) deliver very low-key, naturalistic performances, and have much to do with how earnest and genuine this film comes across.

Now, though there are no Big Moments in The Big Bad Swim, there are personal triumphs. For Noah and his students, victory is found in the small grace notes, those tiny, mundane miracles that present themselves without fanfare everyday of our lives, instances when we can gain some level of respect and love, for ourselves and for those around us.
In The Big Bad Swim, change doesn’t come in pivotal life-altering epiphanies. Sometimes, it comes in small, slow stages. Kind of like learning to swim by starting out in the shallow end of the pool first, and then…
Oh, you probably get the picture.

Parting shot: The Big Bad Swim has won a number of awards, including the Audience Award Best Feature Film Winner at the Tallgrass Film Festival, Best American Independent Winner at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, and Best Feature Film Winner at the Annapolis Film Festival.

(The Big Bad Swim DVD cover art courtesy of; image courtesy of

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