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A Review of "Swimfan"

If I wanted to watch a fat girl who can't swim, I would go to a water aerobics class

by Margaret T. Minnick


Swimfan is the story of Mr. Perfect Ben Cronin (Jesse Bradford) who is seduced by the new girl Madison Bell (Erika Christenson), rejects her, and then she tries to ruin his life, commits some murders, etc.

I will confess right here and now that I'm just not into Erika Christenson. As Chris said on the way out of the theater, "What's the deal with her being so fat?" Her face is especially bad. There's just way too much of it spreading out beyond the the edge of her eyes and cheeks. The same thing bothered me about Sheryl Lee in Twin Peaksjust too much damn face!

But Erika is also just a tad chunkular. She's got an extra layer of padding that you don't usually see in the movies. She kind of reminds me of Tina Yothers from Family Ties, who grew up to be too big and a little too padded to fit in with the rest of her TV family. In fact, when I was about 11 I wrote her a letter telling her just that. I also mentioned that she was a big loser for thinking that meeting Duran Duran was "no big deal," as she claimed in an interview. Ingrate! Tina seems to have turned out OK though, more or less.

But, back to the movie ...

"Swimfan" starts out by sketching out Ben's perfect life. Here are the reasons Ben is perfect:

  • He is a really good swimmer.
  • He has a one-dimensional really nice girlfriend, Amy (Shiri Appleby).
  • He has a Jeep.
  • He drives his Jeep around listening to loud music, singing along, driving semi-recklessly but never crashing.
  • He has a multicultural group of wisecracking friends, including Busta Rhymes (in a bizarre cameo appearance).

But, lest we hate Ben for being so perfect, he is hastily set up with a chequered past. As he confesses to Madison after they've known eachother about 5 minutes, Ben used to have a drug problem, "...that turned into a stealing problem." Oooo! Badass! But, happily, during his time in juvey he learned to swim and now he is a superstar athlete who can amazingly swim 100 yards in under 50 seconds after about one year of training.*

Despite his badboy past, it was hard for me to like Ben. Not only was he Mr. High School Perfect, he also had that worldly "I've been through hell" maturity that made him seem like he was 23 rather than 17 (maybe that's because Jesse Bradford is 23?).

I just can't like a character who is so put together while they're still in high school. It's implausible and offensive, and is bound to cause feelings of inadequacy in many young viewers of Swimfan. If I had seen this movie when I was in high school, I would probably have wondered Why aren't I normal and happy like Amy and Ben?.... Puke!

Madison Bell, the new girl who has arrived from that mysterious netherworld known as The South, comes along to turn Ben's little world upside down. Madison is presented as if she is really sexy, but as portrayed by Erika Christenson, she kind of reminded me of the girl in my third grade class who wore frilly outfits and smelled like pee. As you can imagine, I wasn't altogether convinced of her sexiness. Her fat head and stuffed-nose voice didn't help matters.

Considering Madison's clunkiness, the seduction scene is really funny. For some reason clearly only understood by teenage boys, Ben, who has just told Madison that he has a girlfriend ("it's serious"), takes her to the school pool in the middle of the night and swims around for her to watch. Suddenly (surprise, surprise!) she's in the pool with him, with her lacy bra on.

"I don't know how to swim," she says, "will you teach me?" (I thought she was lying as a ploy to get frisky with Ben, but it turns out in the end that she actually can't swim.)

So Ben does the whole human-kickboard bit, swimming backward with Madison holding his shoulders and acting like a real dork ("oh .. " giggle "am I doing good?"). She also looks like a big dork, what with her fat face and arms.

Soon thereafter, Ben has boinked her in the pool, she's gone nuts and is sending him 100s of e-mails from her email address (SwimFan85@ ... well it doesn't really say where @, but I'll assume with naked pictures of her fat head.

As you might expect, all turns out well in the end, with only a few dead bodies (no one important anyway). And although Ben's girlfriend ultimately forgives him, I'm sure for years to come a question will haunt her — not Why did Ben cheat on me? but Why did Ben cheat on me with a fat-headed girl who looked like Tina Yothers?

* Chris, who used to swim competitively, tells me that the only people he knew who could swim 100 yards in under 50 seconds had been training since they were about 5 years old.

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Perfect little Ben and Amy. Aren't they sweet?

Fat-headed bad girl Madison Bell.

Just in case you needed more proof of her fat-headedness.

Lookit that noggin'!

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