Swimming Upstream is further proof that Judy Davis, one of the greatest actresses of our generation, has an uncanny ability to make shit smell good. There’s a scene in Russell Mulcahy’s film where Davis’s battered housewife stares at one of her sons as he reads his acceptance letter to Harvard and says, “I don’t want you to go.” It’s a sweet and simple moment, alive with screenwriter and former Aussie swimming superstar Anthony Fingleton’s love for a woman who seemingly served an entire lifetime as the wall between her battered children and her alcoholic husband’s iron fist. I don’t mean to trivialize the horrors the Fingleton children went through at the hands of their father, but the same can’t be said for Mulcahy, a music video pioneer in the ‘80s who dresses Fingleton’s triumphs inside the pool with Run Lola Run-esque music and his self-pitying let-downs outside the water with overwrought visual affectations. Three moments particularly stand out: When the ogre played by Geoffrey Rush tells his son Tony (Jesse Spencer) that he makes him feel ashamed, Mulcahy evokes the boy’s disconnect by having him lift off the ground (apparently he’s training to be a helicopter in addition to a swimmer); a drunk-o-vision shot of a plastered Rush staring at a television sideways; and a particularly nasty dispute inside the Fingletons’ home recorded from the point of view of a glass divider standing in for the kitchen floor (no, Robert Zemeckis was not a visual supervisor on the project). From the seemingly unexplained nature of Harold’s hatred for Tony to Dora’s justification of the man’s actions by invoking his own troubled past, Swimming Upstream may hit close to home for those who’ve had to live with an abusive father, except this angry, woe-is-me creation doesn’t vie for universal cred. All it does is aim for Daddy. Like A Beautiful Mind, it’s corny through and through, except its aesthetic is considerably more schizophrenic—when Tony’s getting the shit beat out of him, I couldn’t tell the film apart from Shine, and when he and his buddies take to the pool, I could have sworn I was watching softcore gay porn.
- United Artists
- 95 min
- Russell Mulcahy
- Anthony Fingleton
- Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Jesse Spencer, Tim Draxl, David Hoflin, Craig Horner, Brittany Byrnes, Deborah Kennedy, Mark Hembrow
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