Fish Don't Blink

Director: Chuck DeBus

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

S sweet, stagey film, Fish Don't Blink (2002) regards a semi-crazy girl, Clara (Lea Thompson), & her "talking" catfish that eats cat food. Can't help but wonder if this is an intentional reference to a classic comedy, A Fish Called Wanda (1988).

The limited location that gives Fish Don't Blink such a live-play feeling is inside a roadside cafe on a mostly deserted highway.

Fish Don't BlinkThe place is run by Clara & her brother Jimmy. Her brother is played by the usually annoying Wil Wheaton, the unconvincing super-genius-child from the Next Generation Star Trek series, who needed to be strangled. But this time he turns in what struck me as a quality performance.

Jimmy would like to "get out of dodge" so to speak, but can't abandon Clara whose simple nature he believes means she could never survive without him.

Very likely her nuttiness has more smarts attached than Jimmy is willing to admit, & she's just his excuse for cowardliness. But on the surface at least, he is caught between needing to be needed, & resentment over being trapped for her sake.

These two characters would almost be enough to carry the film, & Lea Thompson frankly could've been the whole show & I'd've been satisfied. But there are other fine performances from a full array of odd ducks. Richard Grieco is Pete, devoting himself Tonie Perensky as Frances, a gangster's moll.

They're on the lam for fear of their lives, as Frances was witness to a gangland murder, & some very bad guys are after them. Before the show runs its course, these bad guys will enter stage left, to add the spice of danger to comic doings.

Pete & Frances are by no means lovers, however, & in fact Frances very quickly finds herself drawn to Jimmy who hates being a hick of a truckstop cook, so she figures she can convince him to run away with her.

Pete by contrast almost by instinct begins to take over kitchen responsibilities & is a fabulous cook. Plus he's much more capable than Jimmy of understanding how Clara has a method to her madness & is not a helpless nuisance.

Fish Don't BlinkUpon this possibility that Pete & Jimmy should swap places in life, much of the emotional impetus of the story progresses, though obviously that's not something easily done, especially with hitmen descending upon the desert cafe.

The second-best character after Clara with her fish is Harry James (John Duncan), a cartoon of a man who does his own used car commercials on television, but is only fooling himself that he's happy. What would really make him happy is owning his own carnival-land, Harry James Park.

If you scratch the surface of a used car tycoon, you find a small child eager to please an endless supply of friends such as he lacks in his present life. How his dreams come true is a whimsical side-plot enriching this goofball tapestry.

Pete's "dream" to be a frycook & Harry's "dream" to run an amusement park are exactly the kind of little goals people have, yet so often miss out on. While trying not to be killed by gangsters, these wonderful, decent, but in many ways lost souls do begin to sort it all out for each other & themselves.

This likeable, small film seems to have vanished from the marketplace, a commercial dud. It maybe that the impression of this being a filmed live play was off-putting for some viewers, & ordinarily I'd agree a movie is not just a play caught on camera. And the acting could fairly be dismissed as hammy as each characters tosses him or herself from one side of the cafe to the other trying to one-up whoever dominated the previous scene.

But I experienced the hamminess as adding to the fun, & if these actors aren't exactly geniuses, they capture the spirit of a whimsy-packed script just fine. And for me the film completely overcame it's limited staging with sufficiently varied camera angles & edits & occasional soujourns outside to be a "movie" & not just the live play it might've been.

I'm not usually the most pleased by comedies, not if they're the sort that feature Saturday Night Live alumni or are about eternally childish middleaged men acting out jokes mostly about their peckers. "Mainstream" comedy films are so juvenile they have got to constitute the worst of all film genres, well below cheapo zombie flicks or amateur porn in creative worth.

And sometimes the quirkiest comedies fail to find a deserved audience because people who like comedies about middleaged men's peckers & little-boy pretenses, understand that an actorly independent film is too intelligent for them. They'll never give it a try. But intelligent viewers may rightly have been put off filmic comedies by the sheer awfulness of ninety-nine point nine nine nine percent of the releases, & mistrust that this one or that one could really be an exception.

Fish Don't Blink however is a treasure of independent cinema, a comedy to delight, worth owning outright to watch now & then, whenever someone comes over who never saw it.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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