Having experienced commercial and critical success in its native France, The Shiny Shrimps, a comedy about an ostensibly homophobic competitive swimmer nearing the end of his professional career who is ordered to train an incompetent LGBTQ+ water polo team as punishment for a public indiscretion, opens in the UK this weekend. I caught up with its co-writer and co-director, Cédric Le Gallo, and actor Romain Brau, who plays the team’s transgender female member Fred, when they were in London recently and asked them to give some insight into the film’s genesis and reception.

Le Gallo explains that he was inspired to write the film by his real-life experiences of being part of a gay men’s water polo team that is just as flamboyant as the one depicted in his film. “Well, I’m part of this water polo team for eight years now and they are really flamboyant, like in the movie sometimes, and yes, we have a lot of fun all together. There is a lot of love,” he says.

He adds: “The team and all the spirit of the team and all the jokes are jokes we do in everyday life, but also we added with Maxime [Govare] my co-writer, some fiction alongside. Not everything is true. With Romain and with the other actors, they were very involved with the process of the movie because first they had to learn water polo, so they learned with the real Shiny Shrimps.”

For Brau, this was the toughest aspect of the entire shoot. “It was more like learning how to swim properly. Getting the right movement in the water for the camera. To be honest, I didn’t fall in love with water polo. It is one of the world’s most difficult sports and I was really enjoying the group and the team environment. I found it very, very difficult to stay in the water for hours and play with a professional team. We had to get to know all the stances, like how to look professional for the TV and stuff. So I was really looking at them, and it was fun but very, very difficult and by the end, just before the start of the movie, we were spending two hours per day in the water, sometimes four. We couldn’t do six.” Laughing, he adds: “Thank God it’s a bad water polo team. The level is really low, so it was perfect.”

Possibly the most ambiguous element of the entire film is whether the team’s instructor, Matthias Le Goff (Nicolas Gob), actually is homophobic, as the utterance he makes at a TV interviewer suggests, or just someone who uses language in a deeply careless and insensitive way. Le Gallo and Brau seem to feel the latter is the case. Le Gallo asks himself: “Is he really homophobic? Maybe not. It’s just that he doesn’t know this world, he doesn’t know any gay people, and he never did an LGBTQ+ party or a regular party because he’s just an Olympic swimmer with a very, very straight life.”

Brau explains: “He really got caught in a stupid moment where he said something really stupid, that doesn’t make him a homophobic person as we say in the movie. However, he gets to fall in love with the team and work hard with the team and he really gets to know the characters. That’s the beauty of friendship. They’re all together for the sport and the love of the victory and the fun of it.”

Le Gallo attributes the film’s domestic box office success to these universal themes of friendship, camaraderie, and teamwork. “When Universal realised that general audiences loved the movie, they said ‘okay, this movie is actually for everyone, not only for gay people’, and when we did the premiere, a lot of grandmas came to us to say ‘oh, we love the movie, it reminds us of our friends’. Apparently, we don’t have anything in common with these grandmas except friendship.”

He concludes by saying that, for him, The Shiny Shrimps’ “main message is about freedom and being who you are and taking care of your friends and being a group of friends and going on adventures, it’s not about being like ‘hey, I’m gay!’. It’s beyond this, and that’s why everybody felt really connected to it because it’s about love, it’s about friendship, it’s about being who you are and not just following your movement, all of which are themes that are very important today.”

The Shiny Shrimps is showing in cinemas across the UK now.