As one of many movies exploring male midlife crisis, Le Grand Bain goes for the subtle and rather disarming approach. This is surprising considering that this is a French comedy. With its atmosphere and general vibe, it’s much closer to Danish drama/comedies like Another Round and others. Still, there’s enough zany dialogue and gags to make sure you know you’re watching a French comedy. The characters feel authentic and very charming, despite all their flaws. You take a genuine interest in their lives and some of you may recognize themselves. When that bearded 38-year-old took a long drag from a joint and said they’ve told him he’s old along with his financial worries, I felt that.
Le Grand Bain features rather slow pacing with a running time of just under two hours. When you combine this with a very variable tone and atmosphere you get quite a messy movie. Sometimes it’s dead serious and going hard and the next minute it will be completely shallow. The story is predictable with a couple of intriguing subplots that end up going nowhere. So, this is not a perfect movie. However, the characters and subjects it explores easily push Le Grand Bain over the line. I mean, exploring what it means to be a man, male friendship and midlife crisis in one go is a difficult task. It might offer a different perspective in a very difficult period of life and even help you get through it. After all, it’s based on a true story, but more about that later.
Bertrand, a husband and a father of two, has been without a job for a couple of years now. Struggling with depression, he spends most of his days laying around and playing Candy Crush on his phone. One day, while he was with his daughter at the local indoor pool, he spots an ad for a male synchronized swimming class. In a spur of the moment, he decides to take it and signs up not knowing that this one little thing will change his life. His first-class sure didn’t reveal that as he learned that the rest of the members of his team are all middle-aged men.
I tried to find more info on the original event that kickstarted this male synchronized swimming craze and I think I found it in Der Traum vom Schweben. It’s a 2004 documentary following three middle-aged synchronized swimmers in Germany. First, we had the 2008 Swedish movie titled Allt Flyter based on this story. It was followed by Swimming with Men, a British version of the same movie with our Le Grand Bain coming out just a couple of months later. I recommend you skip it, as the Brits have a much better story and pretty much everything else in The Full Monty. And if you’re looking for an American version Wild Hogs or Tag might be right for you.
In the end, as I previously said, the very subjects this movie explores make it worth watching. Toxic masculinity stemming from the tribal system of values destroyed so many lives that any questioning of it is valuable. When you add male friendship in this ever more lonely world you get one hell of a combo. The characters explored here may seem a bit over-the-top and unhinged but I assure you they are real.
Director: Gilles Lellouche
Writers: Ahmed Hamidi, Julien Lambroschini, Gilles Lellouche
Fun Facts: Before the shooting, the actors trained for seven months, especially with Julie Fabre, former coach of the French Olympic synchronized swimming team. If the latter was initially skeptical, she told Gilles Lellouche that things would finally be able to be done after three weeks.