Swim to Steven is a quirky short film that serves as a sort of reverse coming-of-age story. Writer-director Amy French introduces us to Kate, a mother taking her son to his first swim lesson with instructor Steven, who happens to be a former flame from her adolescence. The film will be available for streaming worldwide on Friday, October 8 through the Fall 2021 New Jersey Film Festival.
The first thing that caught my eye about Swim to Steven was its striking cinematography. The camera quality is sharp and vivid, and it fully transports the viewer into the story world. The scenes and their individual shots have a really effective flow and dynamic framework that allow the camera to act as a non-human character. This is noticeable throughout the film, but most notable towards the beginning of the short, when Kate and her son enter Steven’s backyard for the first time. Music swells as soon as they enter the new space, accompanying a collection of glamour shots of some of the more beautiful things they see: vibrant flowers, rainbows reflecting through a dangling crystalline fixture, and, as Kate points out, olives. This scene gives the sense that the characters are entering an alternate reality, a different, dreamier world where something magical is about to happen.
Despite this fantastical anticipation, Swim to Steven doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, it’s chock full of genius comedic timing and perfectly awkward moments. As Kate enters the backyard and marvels at its beauty, she bumps into the crystals; she almost embarrassingly overshares with another mom about her pre-pubescent crush on Steven and tells her how she once kicked him ~where it hurts~; and she even stumbles over an explanation of how chicken fights were inherently sexual for teenagers as she continues to be flustered by Steven. Kate is a clumsy protagonist, and actress Diana Gitelman does the role justice with an entirely believable performance.
Yet Kate’s likeable qualities do not cover up the core issue at hand: her extramarital attraction to Steven, a married man. She repeatedly fantasizes about a sexy, shirtless Steven, played by Avi Rothman, embracing her underwater in a sequence that is overlaid with the crystals featured when she first entered his backyard oasis. It is as if some sort of gravitational force is pulling Kate further and further down into the rabbit hole of her old crush, and it is completely unmissable from an audience perspective. She makes digs at her husband being a weak swimmer, and chats the other mother’s ear off about how Steven is just as gorgeous as he was when they were twelve.
Kate’s obvious infatuation wasn’t lost on Steven, who did a great job focusing on her son until they had a moment alone. The sexual tension is palpable as they stand in a cramped bathroom walkway, bodies tantalizingly close to one another as I’m sure the filmmaker intended. Yet this moment drags us back into the comedy of the film with full force, as Steven reveals he is under the impression that Kate was a hook-up from a Flaming Lips concert in 2003, and Kate confirms his misstep to be true. Whether she did this as an attempt to save herself a world of embarrassment if he knew the truth of their aquantainceship, or if it was to have a passionate - if fake - night of debauchery with Steven and feel less guilt for fantasizing about it, Swim to Steven invites the viewer to accept unknowns and go with the flow.
As Kate’s GPS mocks at the beginning of the film: “You seem bored.” So why not take a dive into Steven’s backyard oasis with Kate for an evening? You might even get to live out a shirtless underwater fantasy. Don’t miss your chance to watch Swim to Steven, The Color of You, Lion on the Mat, and When The Music Changes on Friday, October 8 through the Fall 2021 New Jersey Film Festival.
The Fall 2021 New Jersey Film Festival -- which will be taking place on the Fridays and Sundays between September 10 and October 10 will be presenting the Festival online. All the films will be available virtually via Video on Demand for 24 hours on their show date. Ticket buyers will also have special access to Filmmaker Introductions and Q+A Sessions for many of the films.
To buy tickets go here: https://watch.eventive.org/newjerseyfilmfestivalfall2021