The sheer number of autism documentaries has provided one key overall benefit in understanding those on the spectrum: they’re not monolithic. The breaststroking, freestyling young athletes in “Swim Team” couldn’t be more different in terms of personality, drive, appeal and, of course, developmental challenges, and it gives this film from Lara Stolman its particular character, heart and verve.
“Swim Team” chronicles a New Jersey program started by Michael and Maria McQuay — parents of a water-loving autistic teen named Mikey — who wanted to get other kids on the spectrum together to form a competitive swim team, one with real coaching, high goals and a shot at achievement. (A nice byproduct of the program is that it draws participants from its racially diverse local community to a sport that typically underrepresents minorities.)
Naturally there aren’t just portraits of the team members — which include Robbie, a high schooler who invokes Michael Phelps as inspiration and who motivates the other kids, and Kelvin, a 22-year-old who suffers from Tourette’s as well — but the moms and dads who have struggled to give their children the best opportunity to succeed when so much is often denied them.
Stolman thankfully grasps that the narrative road from area meet to sectionals to statewide summer games isn’t the real story — this isn’t a contest documentary with winners and losers. It’s a touching glimpse at a community solution to an inclusion problem, where the water’s more than just fine.
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica