For all the welcome advances made by various out-and-proud gay male athletes across the spectrum of sport, there’s frightful evidence to imply toxic masculinity is still all too keen to flex its outdated muscles. Unsavoury remarks made by the likes of British boxer Tyson Fury and Austrailian rugby player Israel Folau in recent years certainly stick in this reviewer’s mind. Should such established figures be offered an unlikely shot at a redemptive career arc, in the wake of such vitriol?
On the surface, The Shiny Shrimps could rather easily be interpreted as another overriding heteronormative take on a tale, that takes precedence at the expense of how wonderfully overt its queer characters and themes truly are at its core. But through this riotously entertaining sports comedy, it lands on a poignant middle ground that encompasses a varied range of everyday hardships faced by all.
The lack of discipline almost bonds this eclectic gathering of characters. After polluting the airwaves with a string of homophobic comments, decorated swimmer Matthias Le Goff (Nicolas Gob) suddenly struggles to keep his bald head and flourishing career above water. Leading to the authorities dishing out a punishment that fills him with dread.
Coaching an enthusiastic albeit unrefined gay water polo team indeed called The Shiny Shrimps, who have hardly showered in success up to now, compared to their unlikely new coach. For all the apprehension on both sides, the objective is simple. Qualify for The Gay Games hosted in Croatia, described as the Olympics but less boring and with more attractive men, putting in strong performances that are worthy of snatching wigs as well as trophies.
Parading around on their open-top bus with their collective fantastic flamboyance, the comparisons with a fabulous Guy Pearce in The Adventures of Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert (celebrating its 25th anniversary this year) will inevitably be drawn. Yet stylistically this feel-good French offering is more in tune with the grounded underdog stories that are littered throughout the back catalogue of British cinema.
Directorial duo Cedric De Gallo and Maxime Govare who also wrote the script here craft delightful and somewhat vital dynamics within its ensemble, as it seeks to tackle various grievances held that cut across different demographics. From the headstrong Joel (Roland Menou) whose resistance to Matthias is admirable after fighting for years against such hatred, only to quickly balance out in the outdated views he carries towards transwoman Fred (Romain Brau) remaining an integral part of the group, who looks to bring sparkling choreography to proceedings.
To the progressive modern lifestyle of Michael Abitedoul’s Cedric, who is keeping his sporting antics secret from his doting husband and two children. It’s the grand inquisition of these characters and their moral fibre that truly drives the film, becoming all too endearing a group along the way, as we discover their Grindr mishaps and what lip-sync assassins they are when it comes to Celine Dion.
That’s not to say Gallo and Govare skimp on the actual sport sequences. They competently capture the giddy excitement and scale of The Gay Games as the team look to subvert the ‘pinkwash in the federation’s media spin’ claims, with fierce drag queens serving as announcers only adding to the grandeur. Whilst the water polo matches predominantly shot in close-ups and eye-level of the characters are thrillingly immersive, fuelling this sense of drama they are far from accustomed to.
A refreshing and inclusive tonic to such indifference. The Shiny Shrimps is a brilliant, big-hearted romp that deserves to make a splash on these shores.
My Rating: ★★★★
Directed by: Maxime Govare & Cedric Le Gallo
Written by: Cedric Le Gallo, Maxime Govare, Romain Choay
Cast: Nicolas Gob, Alban Lenoir, Michaël Abiteboul, David Baïot, Romain Lancry