'Swimmers': Go Ahead and Dive In

Emma (Tara Devon Gallagher), a preteen who loves to swim, has an ear ailment in
Emma (Tara Devon Gallagher), a preteen who loves to swim, has an ear ailment in "Swimmers," set on the Eastern Shore. (Skouras Films)
Friday, June 9, 2006

"Swimmers" practices a writerly movie poetry, which -- at its best -- is delicately elegiac. Set in a bucolic hamlet on Maryland's Eastern Shore, it centers on a preteen girl named Emma (Tara Devon Gallagher) with only one passion -- swimming -- who is beset by a degenerative ear ailment for which she needs surgery. This adds to an already palpable weight that sits over her family. Emma's father, Will (Robert Knott), drinks a lot and lives hand to mouth as a waterman. And her mother, Julia (Cherry Jones), has become a miserable soul, trying to keep a household together on meager funds. She also suspects that Will is having an affair.

Emma's life takes an upturn when she's befriended by Merrill (Sarah Paulson), an eccentric young woman with odd social skills. But the friendship is complicated by Emma's policeman brother (Shawn Hatosy), who develops a crush on Merrill, and by Emma's mother, who's concerned that Emma is spending too much time with a stranger.

The characters, even in a small-town setting like this, have a few too many convenient connections that bring them together. And the accents -- at least to this former western shore resident -- sound as though they hail from points farther south. But overall, "Swimmers," written and directed by local filmmaker Doug Sadler, is an unhurried delight with persuasive performances, particularly from the beguiling Gallagher. And it evokes a memorable world -- dark mornings on the Chesapeake as watermen take out their chugging boats; silhouettes on piers; and the glistening of wriggling crabs in the sun.

-- Desson Thomson

Swimmers Unrated, 93 minutes Contains sexual situations and language, nudity and profanity. At the Avalon Theatre.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company