FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES (2018)
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Holiday flick takes place in 1983 in a predominately Italian working-class area of Pennsylvania. It follows aspiring artist Tony (Skyler Gisondo) as he has just broken up with girlfriend Katie (Addison Timlin) and his family is preparing for the annual Christmas Eve “Feast of the Seven Fishes”, an Italian Catholic tradition. When hanging out one night with friends Angelo (Andrew Schultz) and Sarah (Jessica Darrow), Tony is introduced to Beth (Madison Iseman), a Protestant college girl from the wealthier part of town. Tony and Beth start to fall for each other, and he invites her over for the Christmas Eve feast. With his wacky Catholic family, Katie wanting him back and Beth’s mother (Lisa Velten-Smith) not liking her hanging out on the wrong side of the tracks, will these two ever find holiday romance?
Holiday romantic comedy is filled with old-school charm thanks to writer/director Robert Tinnell knowing to downplay the over-the-top bombasity that ruins most holiday flicks. The film has loads of atmosphere, both for the Yuletide season and from being steeped in old-fashioned Italian tradition. The 1983 setting adds to the charm, but Tanell never lets it become the focus over his well-written characters. Fishes follows many traditions of holiday romantic comedies, such as two people from different worlds meeting on a special night yet avoids the clichés and overblown melodrama of the bigger Hollywood holiday flicks. That’s what makes this work so well, it’s subtle presentation of its story. It seems far more real and far less fabricated than its big studio counterparts, which prefer big, overcooked set pieces to the down-to-earth human interaction that we get here. It feels like you’re watching real people and not something manufactured. The characters themselves are traditional, yet not stereotypes and the cast wonderfully fill the roles of real people types, despite playing familiar/classic roles.
As for that cast, it’s what really makes this movie fire on all Yule logs. Skyler Gisondo leads an excellent ensemble of actors. He’s likable, charming, but very understated. A very down to earth performance that makes Tony very realistic and endearing. Madison Iseman once again proves she’s an actress to keep an eye on. She makes Beth far more than the stereotypical rich girl that she could have been. Instead, we get a young woman who wants to live her life her way. She’s sweet and very likable and she and Gisondo have some really nice subtle chemistry that makes their romance down-to-earth and relatable. Addison Timlin is also good as Katie. Another role that could have been cliché, but script and actress make you feel sympathy for a young woman who hasn’t quite found herself, or her happiness, yet. We like Katie and hope she does find what she’s looking for someday. Supporting cast is very impressive. We get veteran Paul Ben-Victor as Johnny, the host of the feast and a man who will defend his Baccala to the end. Lynn Cohen is wonderful as Tony’s old-school Catholic grandmother who, at first, doesn’t approve of Protestant Beth. Again, a character avoiding stereotype with some subtlety and depth. Nonnie might surprise you. Rounding out are flavorful performances from Ray Abruzzo as Uncle Carmine, the legendary Joe Pantoliano as Uncle Frankie, Jessica Darrow as Sarah, Andrew Shultz as Angelo and Josh Helman (X-Men: Apocalypse) as Juke. A great cast.
In conclusion this is a wonderfully charming and refreshingly subtle and atmospheric Christmas romance. It’s steeped in the flavor of old school tradition and contains classic characters that avoid being stereotypes, thanks to down-to-earth portrayals and a heartfelt script. Writer/director Robert Tinnell avoids the overblown dramatics and bombastic set pieces that weigh down the big budget Hollywood holiday fare, to give us an old-fashioned Christmas tale of two kids from opposite sides of town meeting and falling in love under the glow of Christmas lights and some salty Baccala. An absolute delight and maybe a new Christmas classic if given the attention it deserves!
Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Christmas trees.