Writers and Directors: Maxime Govare and Cédric Le Gallo
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
After a very limited release in UK cinemas, French comedy The Shiny Shrimps is now available to rent or stream. Telling the story of a gay water polo team travelling to Croatia to compete in the Gay Games, Maxime Govare and Cédric Le Gallo’s film, part road movie, part fantasy, is bright and funny. However, it is a little shallow too, never going too far into the deep end.
As a punishment for calling an interviewer a ‘faggot’, Olympic swimmer Matthias (Nicolas Gob) is forced to coach The Shiny Shrimps (Les Crevettes Pailletées), a ramshackle water polo team consisting of six gay men, and one trans woman. They may have their sights on the Gay Games, but they don’t take the sport too seriously, always fooling about in the water, or pulling off each other’s trunks. Indeed, none of the players seems to have any aptitude for water polo at all and so Matthias has his work cut out.
The best player is probably Jean (Alban Lenoir), but he is dying of cancer while his teammates think he’s in remission. Matthias finds Jean’s painkillers quite early on in the film, but it remains a secret between them. While this story becomes the film’s overarching narrative, other strands appear, less familiar. Cédric (Michaël Abiteboul) is married (to a man) with kids, and he’s trying to balance the role of responsible father/husband with his happy-go-lucky persona in the team. He is caught between two families, and as more gay men and women get married and have children this tension is still relatively unexplored in film.
Joël is older than the rest, and sometimes the frivolities of the others leave him exasperated, especially as he lived through the 80s and 90s, protesting with the AIDS activist group, ACT-UP. He’s the one team member who is outraged that a homophobe has come to coach them – his teammates are contrarily only too ready to forgive – and he’s the one who believes that it’s not right for a member of a gay men’s sport team to be a trans woman. This story of an older gay man living in a postAIDS world (in the West, at least) again is an underexplored subject, previously examined in the brilliant After Louie (2017) with Alan Cumming.
But Shiny Shrimps is not here to philosophise or offer other ways of living, especially when the team drive from Paris to Split in an open-topped double-decker, picking up handsome hitchhikers on the way. The story is ridiculous, but has enough camp charm to make the journey entertaining. Things are less exciting when they reach their destination, and the film soon comes to a crossroad of clichés. Surprisingly, it takes the less obvious route and despite being set in a postAIDS era, this is an AIDS film at heart.
While Govare and Le Gallo won’t win any awards for originality, The Shiny Shrimps is an easy watch, and the characters’ joie de vivre is ultimately infectious. It’s lightweight fun, but you’ll wish it risked deeper waters.
Released on DVD and available to stream from 13 January 2019