The Shiny Shrimps, 2019.
Directed by Maxime Govare and Cédric Le Gallo.
Starring Nicolas Gob, Alban Lenoir, Michaël Abiteboul, Roland Menou, Romain Brau, Roland Menou, Geoffrey Couët, David Baïot, Félix Martinez and Maïa Quesemand.
A champion swimmer is forced into coaching a gay water polo team in an attempt to restore his public reputation after making a homophobic comment on TV.
Comedy cinema is in the midst of a love affair with men in Speedos. Last year, the British comedy Swimming With Men and the very similar French movie La Grand Bain – known in English as Sink or Swim – told the stories of men diving in to their local pool to form synchronised swimming teams. This year, it’s the turn of water polo in the shape of The Shiny Shrimps – a glittering comedy about a gay men’s team and their homophobic coach.
That coach is champion swimmer Matthias (Nicolas Gob), who is serving a suspension from competition after he used anti-gay slurs in a TV interview. The powers that be tell him he must rehabilitate himself by assisting the eponymous team as they compete in the Gay Games. Matthias reluctantly agrees, but soon discovers that winning is not a key concern for the Shrimps. Team captain Jean (Alban Lenoir) formed the group to bring gay men together and, though he’d like to win, the prospect of having a good time at the Gay Games is far more important.
Having a good time, in fact, is the central ethos of The Shiny Shrimps as a film too. Co-written and directed by Maxime Govare and Cédric Le Gallo – one of the real-life Shrimps – it’s a deliciously flamboyant hangout movie with an outrageous sense of humour. The banter is filthy, the music upbeat and when one character declares matter-of-factly that they’ve “got my anus tattooed”, the group’s reaction is not disgust, but curiosity.
Govare and Le Gallo spend the first act of their movie sketching out this diverse array of characters, from the newly de-closeted Vincent (Félix Martinez) through to former militant activist Joël (Roland Menou). There’s also fashion-focused trans woman Fred, portrayed by cisgender male actor Romain Brau, who injects lightning bolts of bawdy energy into the film every time she strides on to the screen, usually forcing everyone else to the fringes by pure virtue of the size of her hats. Every member of the ensemble fires on all cylinders, enjoying the ample zingers provided by the sharp script.
A pure, unadulterated party atmosphere permeates almost every frame of the film. These are characters who love each other embarking on the road trip of a lifetime and the movie consistently delivers sequences of pure joy, often through music – an open-top bus sing-a-long; an unforgettable lip-sync rendition of Celine Dion and Garou duet ‘Sous Le Vent’. However, Govare and Le Gallo also wear the serious elements of the story elegantly, utilising the clear connection between the characters to generate potent emotional hammer blows.
Of course, the water polo element of the story necessitates a certain amount of action in the pool and it’s fair to say that this is not the most obvious of sports to depict on the big screen. In fact, it’s arguably so anti-cinematic that it’s remarkable how well the directing duo does in terms of making the competition scenes work – although some do drag a little long. When the sporting segments focus on the characters themselves, they are surprisingly tense.
But just as for the Shrimps themselves, this film is not really about the sport. The Shiny Shrimps is about the joy of spending time in a world where, as one character puts it, “difference is a strength”. Govare and Le Gallo have crafted the ultimate feel-good adventure, bursting with sparkle and silliness, but capable of giving the tear ducts a workout as well. By the time the credits rolled, I was ready to buy one of Fred’s ridiculous hats, hop in the pool and party along with the Shrimps myself.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.