Smiling Fish and Goat On Fire
2000, R, 90 min. Directed by Kevin Jordan. Starring Heather Jae Marie, Rosemarie Addeo, Amy Hathaway, Bill Henderson, Christa Miller, Steven Martini, Derick Martini.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 10, 2000
Did you like The Brothers McMullen, Ed Burns' romantic comedy from 1995 about three brothers living under the same roof and sharing each other's tribulations in love? Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire sends out strong reminders of that earlier film, with its focus on two lovelorn brothers living together in L.A. and sharing their hopes, frustrations, and troubles in love. Like The Brothers McMullen, Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire was made on a minuscule budget and made the rounds as a festival darling prior to its release. Young men searching for both their occupational niche in life and their one true love has long been fertile ground for aspiring filmmakers. It's the “write what you know” school of storytelling. Fair enough -- but problems arise when the storyteller lacks sufficient insight into or distance from his or her youthful woes to offer the reader/viewer any unique perspective on the condition. When this occurs, the storyteller runs the risk of seeming callow and self-absorbed -- even worse, unoriginal. In this regard, Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire is hardly a horse of a different color. The movie's unwieldy title comes from the nicknames given to the story's two brothers, Tony (Steven Martini) and Chris (Derick Martini), by their half-Indian grandmother. Played by real-life brothers who were also real-life pals of first-time director Kevin Jordan, Tony and Steve both have relationship and job-related problems. There are no great revelations or cataclysmic events. As the movie opens up we can see that Chris has problems because his girlfriend has taken to crying whenever they have sex. She won't share the reasons for her emotions so he gives up on her, finds someone else, then changes his mind, and then really gets screwed. Tony, meanwhile, has a girlfriend who loves him for his “corduroy penis,” although he can't manage to stay faithful to her. On an audition (he's an out-of-work actor, wouldn't you know?), he meets a woman (who also happens to be his mail carrier) who wins his heart. On the job, Chris promises to give his boss' uncle a ride to work and consequently meets the most interesting character in the movie, Clive (Henderson), a 90-year-old man who used to work the boom mike on old African-American-made movies. Clive met his wife on the job and is full of fascinating stories and pictures of the old days and folks like Paul Robeson. Clive is the only character in the movie from whom we take anything away; he's an original character with something to impart. Except for when he's on the scene, the movie just sputters along, albeit pleasantly, while revisiting the realm of the abundantly familiar.