I have a confession to make. My name is Maddie and I’m a Rom-Com-Aholic. Storylines that merge stolen glances with goofy comedic moments make my heart sing. Bonus points for a killer soundtrack.
Needless to say, the romance driven Diving In seen at the recent Sydney Film Festival, directed by Australian filmmakers Adam Bowes and Nina Oyama, grabbed my attention and since watching it, I haven’t stopped thinking about it.
Set at the pool you probably did lessons at in your childhood, we meet Alex (played by the co-director Adam Bowes) who is pining after his coach Jen (played by the charismatic Isaro Kayitesi). With plenty of Nokia phones, jelly band bracelets and glittery eyeshadow, it looks and feels like the time when I, as a proud millennial, was also navigating the awkwardness of young love. The stakes are high for Alex as his mischievous friends send a risqué text to Jen on his behalf, setting him off on a time sensitive mission to delete the text before she can read it. What follows is a sequence that Bowes himself says is inspired by Saving Private Ryan, with Alex dodging pool gates, towels and swimmers’ feet with gymnastic ability. The accompanying soundtrack leans towards the overdramatic, however, all is fair (in filmmaking) in love and war. The story ends with Alex getting to Jen in time to realize the risqué text wasn’t so risqué after all and that the attraction is mutual. With a date arranged for that evening the story wraps up nicely with a glittery bow, as all of my favourite rom-coms do.
What’s different about this film is that it’s a breath of fresh air for the genre’s most notorious issue; diversity. The reason why so many English language rom-coms start to morph together in my memory is that they all kind of feel, sound and most importantly look the same. The two romantic leads tend to reflect the beauty standards of their context, which is traditionally Caucasian, thin, gorgeous actors who look like they fell off the cover of a magazine and onto our screens. We so often see the clumsy, middle-class ingenue search for love, to realize that her best friend was The One all along. He is played by that heartthrob guy, who is that guy who is in that other movie, where she’s a secretary... the list goes on. This story subtly reconstructs the rom-com casting with Bowes, who is paraplegic, playing the romantic male lead and Kayitesi, who is Rwandan-Australian, playing the female lead, more aptly reflecting the diversity of Australian culture. The romance and awkwardness of young love is at the centre of the story however it doesn’t ignore the fact that Bowes himself is different.
A particular moment sticks out, as a woman quite ignorantly comments on Alex’s ability, noting what a “brave soldier” he is for simply swimming. Such commentary doesn’t take away from the romance of the story but is a brief reminder of the ways that we as a society make judgment on people’s ability. Supported through Screenability, (funded by the NSW Govt through Screen NSW) Bowes and his co-director Oyama have created an authentic representation in their film. One of the main reasons why Bowes and Oyama made a rom-com is to have a story that doesn’t revolve around the trope of “overcoming your disability”. This is achieved in the short as they make the range of abilities of the characters a part of the story, however, it’s not the most important part of the narrative.
Diving In is the perfect rom-com Short and should be introduced into the genre’s canon as worthy of feeding my addiction.
Love this review? Check out ARTS2126: Reviewing the Arts! Madeleine's piece came from a mentorship between her and the course convener, Dr. Erin Brannigan. Find out more about the course here.