Swimfan

OMG, I will, like, SO not be ignored
★★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2002
Director: 
John Polson
Starring: 
Jesse Bradford, Erika Christensen, Shiri Appleby, Dan Hedeya
The Setup: 
Psycho girl fixates on star swimmer.
Discussion: 

I chose Soderburgh's King of the Hill for my turn at movie night, which starred Jesse Bradford when he was 14. My friend and I discussed what a handsome young lad he was, and what he looks like today, and I decided I wanted to see Swimfan, which starred him as an adult. And I Netflixed it, but by the end of the day I was in such a frenzy to see it that I couldn't even wait the few days it would take, and had to go to the video store and rent it to get it immediately! Plus, it was EXACTLY the sort of thing I was in the mood for—a teen Fatal Attraction!

So we open with Jesse as Ben having satisfying sex with Shiri Appleby as Amy, his girlfriend, as they're in the cab of his truck. The shot focuses on a car coming up the road, and we assume that they're going to get caught or that this car will have something to do with something, and I suspect it probably did, but that part got edited out. Especially later, this film shows serious signs of being hacked to pieces between shooting and release. This is intercut with shots of Erika Christensen, the other Julia Stiles, playing cello. I suspect that originally it was Erika in that car.

So Ben goes to school, where he meets with Dan Hedeya as his coach, who tells him that scouts from Stamford will be at his meet in a week, meaning he could end up going there on a scholarship and a shot at the Olympics is mentioned, but he will have to "spend the next eight days in that pool." But we know different—don't we? We also meet Amy formally, and have a few scenes to show how very much in love they are, and also meet his male friend and their token black friend, as sassy as token black friends always are. We are also introduced to this big loser goon, who everyone thinks is weird. On his way to class, Ben passes Erika as Madison Bell ["Mad" for short, and as a psychological diagnosis], who is unable to work the combination to her lock. Ben uses a pin from her hair to pick the screw dial combination lock—is that possible? Regardless, now she has her eye on him.

So Ben's rival on the team, Josh, comes in and lets us know that the scouts will also be looking at him when they come. He also lets drop that he met Madison as well, that her parents are in Europe, and she's staying with her rich cousin, and there's some implication about how this will help secure the scholarship. So when Ben is driving home, he is checking out a girl that looks like Madison, when he comes close to hitting the real Madison. He insists on giving her a ride home and is suddenly highly flirty. She remarks that he's a handy guy to have around and he says "Handy all over the place." When he gets home he finds that she has left her notebook in his car, as psychos often do. Psychos are just always leaving shit around, you ever notice that?

So of course Ben HAS to go hand-deliver her notebook [his girlfriend has fallen off the face of the earth for the moment], which she quickly turns into a kind of date. During this time we also find out that she is staying with the outcast goon from earlier—THAT was a surprise, not set up at all. So they have a cheeseburger and Ben tells her that he used to be into drugs and that led to stealing and that led to six months in juvie. Then he discovered swimming and through that, and the ministering love of Amy, he turned his life around and became the star athlete he is today. Here is where things threaten to get interesting, because we can start to see that maybe Ben is yearning to get back to being BAD, give up the boring swimming and safe girlfriend [she actually manages to avoid being insipid and mousy, to Shiri Appleby's credit], and get back to being a bad boy. This angle spun out a whole interesting alternative path to this movie—and I say alternative, because this interesting little side note adds almost nothing to the proceedings as they continue. Anyway, Ben tells Madison that he has a girlfriend, which she seems to take well, telling him that she has "someone waiting for me in New York," but then she tells him that she's "not ready to say goodnight."

So they go to the pool, where he swims as she watches. Then she strips to her bra and panties and gets in. She reveals that she can't swim [and what do we know at that exact moment?*], and asks him to teach her. When they get to the end [clearly marked "Deep" although they appear to be standing], she clamps onto him, and it's not long before they're making out. He again reminds her he has a girlfriend, but she says "It's okay, I want you to." She also says it'll be their little secret and she's cool that it's just a one-off. She asks him to say he loves her, saying "you don't have to mean it," and he does. By the way, all of this is happening with a blue filter on the camera lens [actually the whole movie has one], and with a brightly lit pool interior and dark exterior, so they're doing all this in light blue luminous water. I sort of liked the spooky look of it all, although it's pretty obvious. By the way, keep in mind the fact that all of this happened in one day—Ben met her THAT morning.

So the next the true stalking begins. First Amy calls, and is suddenly all whiny and insipid, which I thought was being done purposely to show how much more exciting Madison seems, but soon she's back to normal. That night Ben goes to a party, and Madison is there, having made fast friends with Amy. When she gets the quite-uncomfortable Ben alone she asks when they'll see each other again. Then she reveals that she left her panties in her car. Then the next day she's over at his house, visiting his mom. This is when he finally gets assertive, and tells her that what happened was a mistake. The conversation is broken up into a series of disjointed edits that show is that Madison's mind is SNAPPING! Or it would, if the same technique weren't used twice more in the film. Maybe her mind snaps repeatedly. The surprise to me was that I liked it and thought it worked fairly well. When she leaves we can see that she took his keys! Ooooh, it's ON!

SPOILERS > > >
The first bad thing happens when Ben, who dispenses medicine in a hospital [did I mention that?] suddenly hears a bunch of alarms going off behind him—the evil Madison has snuck in and switched his patient's medications! I thought this was awesome—not least because it implies her complete working knowledge of advanced drug interactions. Unfortunately, no one dies, but Ben is fired. Then he finds Madison in the library, grabs her by the neck and tells her in no uncertain terms to stay away from her—what's not uncertain is the way he's almost kissing her as he does this, and how, after she says she understands he orders, he says "Good girl" like the sado-master in the relationship. Kinky! I just hope you're not thinking the movie has the guts to follow through on any of this.

Well, now the gloves are off, and when he comes into school the next day, everyone, including Amy, knows that he parked his big purple Cadillac in Madison's avenue. Then it's time for the big meet with the talent scouts—and he is called out of the pool at the last moment. He has tested positive for steroids, and is disqualified! The scouts shake their heads sadly and go home. This is really not his day! And, of course, he suddenly loses all communication skills and thus cannot tell Amy, his coach or his mom what happened. When his mom assumes he's back on drugs, he's just sullen and snide. This is so tedious, but I suppose if he could just sit down and tell anyone anything we wouldn't have much of a movie. BUT! There will emerge a ray of hope!

We see Madison in a car with Josh, making out, and she twice calls him Ben. He ain't havin' it, and suddenly he believes Josh, knowing he would never do steroids. We get more jagged editing [now crossing the line into overdone] as Madison once more snaps. Girl got more of those than a Rice Krispie. What does it all come to? Not much right now, but just wait. Then this HANDSOME cop comes up to menace Ben—he remembers him from his old juvie days—and then all of a sudden Ben is breaking into Madison's house! WHERE did this come from? It is quite abrupt and seems out of character. He finds the missing meds! He finds the steroids! He finds a nurse's uniform—which is one of those things that is funny when you follow through on the thought: Imagining her going to the uniform store, then lurking around while Ben's on his shift [but without him seeing her and without anyone asking her what she's doing], and switching all his meds while he's out of the room for 2 minutes… someone should make a comedy showing the stalker's side of the story. I just really want to watch all the WORST stalker films now. My Netflix queue is all filled up with teen trauma movies now, too. Anyway, Madison is downstairs giving a private cello recital to the ladies who lunch, when Ben is discovered in her room by Madison's goon cousin, Christopher. He says "Madison would kill you if she found you in here!" and Ben replies "No shit!" Then Christopher hides Ben, and says he'd better see something. Ben has found a little box full of all sorts of newspaper clippings and ephemera abut himself, and Christopher shows him a similar box about this star football player. He then takes him into New York to this hospital that is inexplicably located in a grimy alley in the Meat Packing District [uhh… um… well, okay….] where Ben finds that the guy is in a COMA! Remember how Madison says she "has someone waiting for me in New York?"

So now Ben must spring into action—and from now until the end, we sense that significant portions of this film have been cut, re-edited, reshot, and I other ways messed with. Madison wears Ben's cap and drives his truck—to run Amy down! So of COURSE everyone KNOWS Ben did it. Then Madison goes to the hospital, grabs a scalpel and is going to finally finish Amy off once and for good—luckily for her no one sees anything odd with a girl walking down a hospital corridor with a scalpel in her hand—but then, well, it's so inane I can't really go into it, but suffice to say soon Madison is attacking Josh with the scalpel, and Ben has it all on video! He shows it to the cops, and is COMPLETELY VINDICATED! You see, it's just as simple as that!

And yet, it's one of those false endings that everyone can TELL is a false ending because they just aren't treating it like it's really final. There's just something about the tone. So while Madison is being taken to jail, the police car is stopped by a passing train. And the gun of the cop sitting next to her is right there… I believe this is the reason that, in real life, the cops sit in front and the perps sit in back behind a steel grill. But not here—and Madison grabs the gun and blasts the cops! You gotta admire this girl. Especially you consider that she's crossed the line into cop-killer and JUST for some high school boyfriend!

It would seem that Madison slugged Ben's mom [still earning my love] and stole Amy from the hospital! She texts Ben, and he finds her at the pool, with Amy handcuffed to a chair! She insists that Ben tell her he loves her, and when he says he doesn't, she kicks Amy right into the pool! LOVED it. I would totally be Madison Bell for Halloween if anyone would get the reference. Ben then has to use his swimming prowess to save the one he loves! He uses the hair pin Madison gave him way back when—OMG, like SO ironic—to pick the lock and free Amy, while Madison falls into the pool! And I'm sure you recall who can't swim, right?

There's a short epilogue in which we see that Ben is still not on the swim team—if he disproved the steroids charge I don't see why not, although at the same time I liked that there were actual consequences from what happened and his life really WAS messed up—and we see him get into the truck with Amy, implying that they're back together. This made me think how it's going to be REALLY hard for him to break up with Amy now, if he wanted to. Wouldn't that be funny? "Uh, honey, before I got stalked and you were almost murdered, well… I just felt like things had gotten a little stale."
< < < SPOILERS END

That fact that it's awful notwithstanding, I really liked it. First, it's a stalker film. Second, it's a TEEN stalker film—that's 70 points right there. Big additional points racked up by the fact that Madison isn't afraid to risk the health of senior citizens, run down, take the scalpel to and otherwise dump girlfriends into the pool, and she just grabs cops' guns—while handcuffed, thank you very much—when in a tight spot. This is a girl we need on our side! Not like boring old Alicia Silverstone from The Crush, who only unleashed some bees on her beau's girlfriend. That's just innocent fun. There's also Jesse Bradford, interesting to me since I had just watched him as a 14-year-old the night before. He still has the same halting delivery, and can do this sort of blank look in his eye—it made me think what a great psycho HE could play. Jesse, call me, I'll write you a bang-up script. There are also these not-so-subtle hints throughout that Jesse has a big hard-on for Madison, especially after she starts being bad. There's the scene in the library where he's obviously about to kiss her while he choking her, and says "Good girl" in an erotic way, In a later, similar scene, I believe he DOES give her a quick kiss. Unfortunately, none of this goes anywhere.

I liked the directorial style. It's only slightly flashy, but it usually works, and the director can establish a decent rhythm that keeps things flowing well and interesting. I didn't mind all the blue tint, and I appreciated his interesting lighting in the pool sequences. Unfortunately it seems that test audiences and the need to score with teens ensured that the ending would be chopped to bits, and apparently it was. I understand that the director and stars discuss it in the commentary, but I only got to listen to a tiny bit before I had to return it, so I'm afraid I can't offer any insight.

Well, I believe we've covered it all! If you're in the mood for an amusing teen version of Fatal Attraction, thank god this movie is here for you!

Should you watch it: 

If it sounds amusing, by all means.

*Why, how the movie is going to end, of course.