Dir: Maxime Govare and Cédric Le Gallo. Starring: Nicolas Gob, Alban Lenoir, Michaël Abiteboul, David Baïot, Romain Lancry, and Roland Menou. 15 cert, 103 mins
No one expects to cry during a movie about water polo. But such is the strange, galvanising spirit of The Shiny Shrimps, which remoulds the underdog sports movie into a celebration of solidarity within the LGBT+ community.
The biggest twist here is that The Shiny Shrimps themselves – dubbed “the worst team in gay sporting history” – couldn’t really care less about winning. They’re just in it for a good time. It’s a mindset that drives their new coach, Matthias Le Goff (Nicolas Gob), up the wall. He’s been told that the only way he can hold on to his swimming career, after being caught on camera using a homophobic slur, is to take The Shiny Shrimps all the way to the Gay Games in Croatia.
Yet this isn’t just another story that exists to eulogise a straight, white man’s path to redemption and forgiveness. Although Matthias provides our entry point into the world of The Shiny Shrimps, he’s never presented as the focus of the audience’s sympathies. We watch him slowly reconnect with his teenage daughter (Maïa Quesemand), but she seems more interested in the team itself than in imparting life lessons to the man who raised her. And the team members are aware that they’re potentially being co-opted into someone else’s goodwill tour, but they decide to give him a chance anyway because “with an arse like his, he can’t be too bad”.
The Shiny Shrimps is, above all, riotously funny and deeply committed to silliness. We’re witness to desperate Grindr crusades, Celine Dion sing-alongs, and bus rooftop escapades that pay clear homage to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It’s the final scene, though, that really brings home the film’s core message, as we see our crew make the choice to pursue a carefree life in the face of hostility and calamity. It’s a disarmingly emotional sequence. The Shiny Shrimps are defiant against the everyday struggles of the LGBTQ community, but not invulnerable to them. Everyone has their own trials. Terminal illness, heartbreak, abusive families, homophobia, and matters of identity all feature.
Not often seen on film are the internal conflicts that can occur within the LGBT+ community. There’s a clear generational divide between how the older and younger members of the team see things, especially where it concerns Fred (Romain Brau), who has recently come out as trans. Joël (Roland Menou), the most senior between them, feels he’s owed recognition for the work his generation did fighting on the frontlines for gay rights, yet there’s clear bigotry in his desire to exclude Fred from the team.
The conflict is never fully dissected, but it’s an important nod to the discrimination still faced by trans individuals, even from within supposedly progressive moments. In the world of The Shiny Shrimps, solidarity is crucial. As frivolous and futile as it may seem for a bunch of talentless water polo players to travel halfway across Europe to compete for a prize they’re bound to lose, it’s the meaning behind the act itself – “that we’re united and we exist,” as Joël describes – that matters.
Cedric Le Gallo, the film’s co-director and writer (working here with Maxime Govare), actually plays for a gay water polo team called The Shiny Shrimps – which likely explains the honesty at its core. Although this is an entirely fictional story, it’s still laced with the small snippets of experience that elevate it beyond a simple, feel-good fantasy. Good vibes don’t come for free. Joy is something we have to fight for.
The Shiny Shrimps is released in UK cinemas on 6 September
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