The Shiny Shrimps

An offensive protagonist is the troubling focus of an otherwise enjoyable French comedy

The relationship between homosexuality and the sporting world is complex – just think of the disparity between the supportive embrace of queerness in women's football, and its continuing taboo in the men's game. Evoking Pride and Little Miss Sunshine, The Shiny Shrimps, inspired by filmmaker Cédric Le Gallo's own experiences, attempts to mine this subject area, with mixed results.

Directed and written by Le Gallo and Maxime Govare, it opens with French swimming champion Matthias Le Goff (Nicolas Gob) making a homophobic comment on live TV. He's duly commanded by the swimming federation to coach the Shiny Shrimps, a gay, amateur water polo team on their journey to the Gay Games hosted in Croatia. It's an odd decision to frame spending time with gay men as a punishment; potentially endangering the men by saddling them with a known homophobe is also questionable.

The film's main weakness lies in centring Le Goff in a gay narrative, then not knowing how to develop him. One character asserts he's not so much homophobic as ignorant, yet his continued use of homophobic (and ableist) slurs following his disciplinary hearing suggest wilful provocation. Painted sympathetically, he obviously must be redeemed by the end and so his awful attitude is conveniently softened. They educate him – quelle surprise, gay people have relatable issues – yet still he's constantly embarrassed to be seen in public with them. Most notably, he never actually apologises.

Unsurprisingly then, the most enjoyable moments are when the cohort take centre-stage. A sequence set at an extravagant, indoor pool-party club night stands out, as do scenes of the road trip across Europe on a turquoise double-decker bus, replete with a musical montage and time-lapse footage. The queer camaraderie and joie de vivre are infectious, elevating what is otherwise a predictable, conventional comedy with a hopelessly muddled message.

Selected release from Fri 6 Sep.

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