“The Shiny Shrimps” (“Les crevettes pailletées”)
Screened at the Cinema Chicago Summer Screenings Series (4/5)
Rare is it that a film can cross and successfully fuse multiple genres seamlessly, but so it is with this delightful, heartwarming and raucously funny French comedy. When an Olympic champion swimmer nearing the end of his career makes a blatantly homophobic remark to a persistently inquisitive reporter, he must pay penance to recover his standing. The French sports federation assigns him to coach a gay male water polo team seeking to compete at the Gay Games in Croatia, and, if he succeeds, he just might redeem himself, a task that proves more challenging than an anticipated when he discovers himself to indeed be a shrimp out of water. In telling this tale, directors Cédric le Gallo (himself a member of a gay water polo team called the Shiny Shrimps) and Maxime Govare skillfully combine elements from LGBTQ films with underdog sports movies, road trip tales (a la “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”), classic French farce, and inspiring stories of tolerance and acceptance. That’s a lot to put on one plate, but le Gallo and Govare pull it off handily, and they do so by throwing in some unexpected twists and turns, especially in the film’s final act. Admittedly, some elements are somewhat formulaic and predictable, and some of the character treatment sometimes verges on gay stereotyping. However, that’s made up for by seldom-seen depictions of gay diversity and restrained handling of messages without becoming heavy-handed or moralizing. There truly is a lot to like here. Unfortunately, the film is not being widely distributed in the US, currently playing only at film festivals and in special screenings. That’s too bad, because this offering is a genuine crowd pleaser that serves up insights more of us need to see and hear. Maybe that will change when this picture’s recently completed sequel makes its debut, something that, for me, can’t come soon enough.