Review by Tatiana Miranda
After its premiere at TIFF in 2021, the film Learn to Swim now comes to Netflix for its digital release. The movie is director Thyrone Tommy's debut feature, and it is co-written by him and Marni Van Dyk. With tonal similarities to Whiplash and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Learn to Swim follows the rise and fall of a relationship told through the spontaneous lyricism of jazz.
Of course, Learn to Swim's strong suit is its music. With a mix of original songs and classics, the movie is an ode to the everyday working musician trying to make it big. As the main characters are introduced, they fall into their assumed roles: Dezi as the experienced and controlling sax player and music producer of Selma, who is a determined novice singer. Their arguments come through their work, with Selma aiming to be more than she is, and Dezi being the extremely talented but also incredibly passive musician that he is.
Their struggles are represented through song and their individual performances, especially as Selma and Dezi attempt to create something representative of the two of them while still allowing room for the other person. Even the film's 1.37:1 aspect ratio has a nod to album covers and the color grade gives the silky, whiskey-colored look that succinctly matches the tone and music of Learn to Swim.
The main character, Dezi, is the prototype of a highly talented and focused musician with a penchant for drinking and just generally making bad life decisions. Representative of his faulty headspace and clear nostalgia for past relationships, Learn to Swim jumps through Dezi's memories seemingly at random, slowly but surely telling the story of his and singer Selma's failed romantic relationship. Similar to hitting the shuffle button on a playlist, this movie is told through quick, out-of-order vignettes of Dezi and Selma's intriguing yet tumultuous relationship.
While this is a clever way to tell their story and a great representation of Dezi's unreliable narrator aspect since he is hopped up on pain meds for a majority of the movie, Learn to Swim's unique storytelling gets lost in the confusing jumble of moments, which almost require the audience to keep a notebook at hand in order to document the film's timeline.
Unlike the movie's easy listening through its music, Learn to Swim requires the viewer's full undivided attention in order to properly understand what is happening, and even then, some of the character's motives and actions feel out of the blue. Learn to Swim is likely not for the average Netflix user, but it is nevertheless an artistic rendition of love lost and an accurate representation of the beauty of jazz that any film fanatic is sure to enjoy.
Learn to Swim is now in theaters and on Netflix.