This week I finally got around to watching the film Water Lilies. It’s a coming of age film about two girls, aged about 15, and their discovery and exploration of the feelings that the move from childhood to adulthood evoke, including masses of attraction and confusion.
It’s taken me nearly 10 years to watch it because there are only so many coming of age dramas one can watch before the cringe factor becomes overwhelming, and I obviously had reached my limit, but I’m glad I finally made the time for it.
The two leads are best friends – one is well developed and large for her age, and one is skinny and less well developed. The skinny one falls for the captain of the local synchronised swimming team (a girl with a reputation as a ‘slut’), while the larger girls falls for the boy who is going out with the captain of the synchronised swimming team. Ah, love triangles!
So, our scrawny heroine makes a deal with the captain to sneak into swimming practice so she can watch them, and in return she helps the captain sneak off to liaisons with her boyfriend. D’oh! And of course, as life isn’t simple, it soon transpires that our captain isn’t quite the sexually experienced woman she appears to be, and she is not naive to the feelings of our heroine. But, thankfully, neither do these revelations transform her to the good girl that might imply – all the teenagers in this cinematic world are confused.
Meanwhile, our larger heroine is receiving some of the frustrated attentions of the attractive boy, who isn’t getting what he hoped from in his interactions with the swimming captain, while she struggles horribly with accepting her own physicality.
Highlights for me were many, but a few stand out.
A pool party at which all the boys have, inexplicably, underpants on their heads. This struck me as so essentially true, describing that dividing line of childhood and adulthood.
And again showing that move from childhood to adulthood, one of our heroines casually bounces on a trampoline in a garden on the way to sneaking out with her friend. You feel that 6 months earlier there would be no angst, and 6 months later there will be no bouncing.
A couple of scenes also show so well the horror of puberty. The larger girl’s embarrassment at a party, in an incredibly well portrayed scene, as she realises her dancing has resulted in large patches of sweat under her arms. And another scene where she waits to be alone in the swimming changing room in order to hide her naked body from the rest of the team. Who would be a teenager again?
I also loved the total absence of any significant adults in the world we are shown. The view is from the girls themselves: parents and other adults are incidental to that world.
This view also allows for some portrayals of the intensity of feelings. A wonderful scene in which our scrawny heroine has managed to get into the pool to watch practice, showing the synchronised swimming team with close focus on the object of desire, and then feet, then splashing, then underwater. The camera reflecting the intensity of the watched experience. Now, I’m no film expert (did you guess?!), but it’s techniques like this that make me want to be.
And a quick word on the ending. It’s not happy ever after, it’s not certain, it’s not clear: it’s just exactly what being 15 is all about.
In summary, in my view, worth seeing once, but probably not twice.