By Don Simpson | January 25, 2011
Director: Michael Matzdorff
Writer: Michael Matzdorff
Starring: Tony Shalhoub, Barry Corbin, Ross Partridge, Katie Aselton, Michael Chernus, Vanessa Branch, Carlos Kotkin
Joe (Ross Partridge) is a children’s book author, but his first book series — which starts with Mr. Kitty Feeds the Fish — grinds to a screeching halt when he is overcome by writer’s block. (It is a crying shame because we are told that parents love the moral lessons in Mr. Kitty Feeds the Fish, while their kids love the violence.) Bills have been piling up around his Los Angeles apartment and his publisher wants the advance back for Joe’s much overdo second book. We can only assume that the constant bitching and nagging of his cold and heartless Hollywood girlfriend, Lorraine (Vanessa Branch), is to blame for Joe’s lapse of creativity and ambition. When Lorraine flushes Joe’s best friend — a goldfish — down the toilet, Joe knows that something has got to change.
Luckily, Joe’s non-fishy friend, JP (Michael Chernus) — who is also Lorraine’s brother — has a plan. The men in JP’s family have a long-standing tradition, the year that they turn 35 they participate in a polar bear plunge in the frigid environs of Ellison Bay, Wisconsin. JP is heading to Ellison Bay early in order to train for the event (training = running around outside, half naked, while the temperature is below freezing) and he figures that the change in scenery might help Joe snap out of his writer’s block.
So JP and Joe leave the beautiful December weather in Los Angeles, where it is 71 degrees and sunny, and arrive in Ellison Bay where it is a brisk 19 degrees. As soon as they arrive, Joe heads directly to the Viking Grill to grab a cup of coffee to go. That is where he meets a beautiful and available waitress named Sif (Katie Aselton). Get it? Viking Grill. Sif is the wife of Thor — you know, the god of thunder. Anyway…
They arrive at JP’s vacant family home where JP and Joe have two simple tasks: keep the gas flame burning in the hut out back and feed Boo the fish. But it is not long before a badger bites JP in the balls (too bad they did not score this scene to the “Badger Song” by The Dead Milkmen) causing him to spend the rest of the film in a hospital bed. Shortly after JP’s mishap, Joe causes one hunter to shoot another hunter in the balls. Joe, on the other hand, sleeps in t-shirt and no underwear or pants; showing off his balls to any surprise guests who appear in his bedroom prior to his waking (which seems to happen a lot in Ellison Bay). In other words, writer-director Michael Matzdorff has a strange fascination with testicles.
Since this is a small, secluded Midwestern town, we meet several eccentric male characters — including the town sheriff (Tony Shalhoub) and Joe’s friendly neighbor (Barry Corbin), Sif’s father and grandfather, respectively — as well as the most perfect woman in the world, Sif, who is not only gorgeous but also sweet, innocent, trusting, humorous and nurturing.
Essentially, Feed the Fish is about mussed hair creative type from the big city who arrives in a town that is a hybrid of Fargo and Northern Exposure to take a plunge into the icy depths in order to discover his muse. Sif comes from a family of men — her mother and grandmother are deceased — who have issues with their father-child relationships. In an unspoken exchange for being permitted to become her Thor, Joe helps mend Sif’s dysfunctional family.
Feed the Fish tries really hard to be quirky and silly on the surface all the while juggling an emotional heart at its core. There are plenty of mixed messages and Feed the Fish finds itself in a constant tug-of-war that is confusing at best and frustrating at worst.
Tony Shalhoub ( Monk) and Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure) are real pros at playing eccentrics, so their characters seem uncannily effortless. It is practically impossible to not fall in love with the always lovely Katie Aselton (Puffy Chair, The Freebie, Cyrus) and Ross Partridge (Baghead, The Freebie) pulls off his character quite well too. So there are absolutely no problems with the casting; the real dilemma is in the script. The characters are woefully underdeveloped and Matzdorff relies much too heavily on the audience’s recognition and understanding of the stereotypes each character fulfills in order to comprehend their motives and actions.
Feed the Fish is currently available on DVD. For more information go to Strand Releasing.