The Shiny Shrimps

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Shiny Shrimps
"What the film does well is to quickly set aside the simple conflict stemming from Matthias' prejudice and make room for other kinds of character development."

The first Gay Games was held in 1982 with the aim of promoting inclusion in sport at a time when prejudice made it very difficult for LGBT people to participate in the mainstream. It also had a secondary aim: to promote the pursuit of personal growth. Matthias (Nicolas Gob) probably thinks that he doesn't have much growing to do when we first meet him, for all that he acknowledges that he screwed up in making homophobic comments about a rival. He's at the top of his sport, though reaching the age where it's time to start thinking about long term career options. When the disciplinary committee orders him to coach an all-gay water polo team to atone for his comments, however, he faces a series of challenges that will change him in ways he could never have anticipated.

This team is Les Crevettes ('The Shrimps') and as Matthias soon realises, there's a bigger problem than the clash between their camp flamboyance and his self-conscious straightness - they're really not very good. Water polo is a highly demanding sport and they can barely even manage to pass the ball when there's nobody else in the pool. He begs for a reprieve but the decision is firm. Then two things happen. He learns something about one of the players that makes him realise why the competition matters, and his teenage daughter takes an interest, so excited by the prospect of him turning the men into stars that his desire to make her happy begins to overcome his realism.

There's a fair bit of Hollywood dreaming in the transformation that follows, but as subplots gradually move to the fore, it avoids sticking too close to that formula. It does end up relying on another LGBT film cliché but this is less problematic than usual in light of the fact that there are lots of gay characters here, all on different paths - and whilst the degree of camp on display might not exactly be representative, it's entirely in keeping with a spirited, feelgood film that's all about finding joy in life. Explicit expressions of sexuality are played for laughs, with the joke often on the squeamish Matthias, and more easygoing parents are unlikely to have a problem with their kids watching it, its buoyant atmosphere giving it all-ages appeal.

What the film does well is to quickly set aside the simple conflict stemming from Matthias' prejudice and make room for other kinds of character development. Matthias is never a monster, simply a man who hasn't examined the attitudes he grew up with, and much of the joy of the film stems from watching him gradually open up to the world and discover that it's okay to express his emotions. With a whole water polo team to deal with, the film doesn't have room to tell everyone's story in depth, but we get to know a few of them - a man who is determined to shag as many teammates a possible on a trip he's treating as a holiday, a man whose relationship is under pressure and who doesn't want to let down his kids, a trans woman who is persuaded to return to the team as both its star player and its choreographer, an older man who is derided by the others for not keeping up with the times. Through their stories we get a sense of community in stark contrast to what Matthias has known as an athlete with little time in his life for building human connections.

Sequins and swimming don't really go together but somehow The Shiny Shrimps pulls it off, adding a dash of cheesy pop music, a dance number, and some fabulous set design. It lets itself down a bit with its treatment of lesbian characters but at least they get a few chances to get their own back. There's also room for some serious reflection on the impact of homophobia, more powerful because it concerns characters we've bonded with through comedy. Overall it's a warm hearted film that will give viewers something to smile about.

Reviewed on: 05 Sep 2019
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When a champion Olympic swimmer utters a homophobic slur on national television, he is forced to become the reluctant coach of the Shiny Shrimps, a flamboyant and outrageous water polo team in training for the Gay Games in Croatia.

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