review for Swimming to Cambodia on AllMovie

Swimming to Cambodia (1987)
by Mark Deming review

There's nothing inherently cinematic about watching a man talk for 87 minutes. But Jonathan Demme's film version of Spalding Gray's one-man show works remarkably well, mainly because the director has enough respect for Gray's material to present it properly. Demme knows when to move in or pull back or shift the angle of his camera to match the rhythms of Gray's monologue; the photography breaks up the material visually but never calls attention to itself, much of the time simply staying put. When Gray gets rolling, Demme just stays on him, capturing the meter of his voice and the landscape of his face (and even the bits of spittle that occasionally burst from his lips). Gray's monologue is compelling and deeply felt from start to finish; it would probably have been interesting even in the hands of an inept filmmaker, and its translation by a director as skilled and intelligent as Demme allows us to appreciate Gray's gifts all the more.