Wrong Conflicts: Our Review of ‘Learn To Swim’

Posted in Movies by - March 24, 2022
Wrong Conflicts: Our Review of ‘Learn To Swim’

Dezi Williams (Thomas Antony Olajide), as one of his bandmates explains, has been playing saxophone in a jazz band for a year and a half. He’s one of the middle members of a band that’s been around for three years by the time the events in Thyrone Tommy’s Learn to Swim begins. That bandmate is explaining this back story to a newer member, Selma (Emma Ferreira), a vocalist who does both Latin and traditional jazz. The film isn’t too obvious with the sexual tension between the two, which is good.

In theory, these two heterosexuals would be perfect for each other except for two things. The first is some dental surgery he’s procrastinating because of lack of funds. His dental ailments make playing impossible. This is relatable for me who lost voice during COVID (this film can be a decent COVID metaphor). The second is a nosy neighbour, Sal (Andrea Davis) who is noisy and lets herself into his apartment without asking his permission. These are interesting plot points that can go both ways. And as the film’s lead, Olajide shows promise and has the potential to play another unsympathetic protagonist in a film with better execution.

There are enough moments here that makes it feel like it’s aiming to be chill. There is a fine line between chill and languid that many films like this do a tightrope walk on. And Learn to Swim at least escapes that languid tone by adding moments of tension. Is it the right kind of tension though? The use of the word heterosexual in this review is a reference to the kind of conflict heavy relationships. Ones that I see heterosexuals get into both in fiction and in real life. Dezi and Selma’s previous pre-relationship hangouts has him criticizing her vocal talent. In fairness, she deserves criticism, but he doesn’t say anything constructive. Can people stop writing films where the main or subplot involves a sloppily written toxic relationship? And of course. light spoilers, he cheats on her.

This is technically a jazz film but there’s a horror version of this that the world deserves. All the elements are there. A man endures physical pain that turns into an emotional and psychological one. There’s a scene where Selma has a cut and there could have been more blood everywhere without her dying too quickly. Sal, whose function in this film is to make a young person slightly more miserable. The film also has this sepia tone look and uses a full screen to depict restaurants at 1AM and apartments in a house next to menacing looking trees. There are surreal elements to this film but it could have pushed further and still leave enough room for subtext. A horror version of this would also have made this unsympathetic protagonist more interesting and give his actions consequences.

Watch Learn to Swim in theatres in Toronto (TIFF) and Vancouver.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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