Feast Of The Seven Fishes


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Feast Of The Seven Fishes
"Robert Tinnell proves that they do, in fact, make 'em like they used to."

When you've had your fill of blockbusters, documentaries and art films, why not settle down to enjoy a gentle comedy about an Italian American family getting together on Christmas Eve? With what is probably the best seasonal film this year, Robert Tinnell proves that they do, in fact, make 'em like they used to.

There's a lot going on in this particular extended family, but the one thing guaranteed to bring everybody together is the titular feast of the seven fishes (or seven marine creatures - it gets a bit complicated). The preparation, we are told, is more important than the feast itself, and each family member has a designated part to play, whilst elderly matriarch Nonnie (Lynn Cohen), no longer capable of taking an active role, looks on in frustration and tells them when they're getting it wrong. Meanwhile, the young men of the family are navigating romantic entanglements, with Tony (Skyler Gisondo) falling for Beth (Madison Iseman), a girl from the other side of the tracks with a racist mother and shitty boyfriend who would probably have been the film's hero had it been made at the time when it's set. When Tony's great uncle invites Beth to join them for the feast, Nonnie is horrified because she's not Catholic, and that's just the start of their problems. Can love, family bonding and the Christmas spirit save the day?

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"What's nostalgia?" asks one of the boys at the start of the film, during an affectionate argument about language and intellectualism which highlights the class boundaries at play throughout. The importance of young people feeling free to cross these is a key theme in a film that teases out all the clichés of early Eighties feelgood comedies but is far too smart to feel like a cliché itself. Tinnell exudes confidence in his dual role as writer and director, plunging us into the middle of these intersecting lives with little by way of introduction but presenting his characters in a way that will make you feel as if you've known them all your life. There's fantastic chemistry between the various members of the ensemble cast and the humour builds naturally. As the outsider, Iseman gets the balance just right and allows for exposition that feels natural and never overwhelms.

If you love cooking you won't quite get enough instruction to prepare your own feast here but you'll certainly get plenty of tips and inspiration. Love of food is central to the film and helps to distinguish the richness of Italian American culture from the sterility of Beth's domestic environment, where Christmas is meant to be spent quietly at home and an Ivy League education is meant to be spent finding a rich husband. Jamie Thompson's cinematography draws on period techniques to tell us more about these two worlds, and finds seasonal magic in the snowy outdoor scenes. Every now and again, the film switches to a square format and video-style exposure, framing the whole film as a fond family memory.

There's not much here that hasn't been done before, but in a film about tradition and the importance of long-cherished values, that's part of the point. What Tinnell does really well is to capture the potential for change that still exists within this, deftly addressing social issues without ever missing a comedic beat. Warm and revitalising, Feast Of The Seven Fishes is the perfect Christmas treat.

Reviewed on: 13 Nov 2019
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A slice of life story that follows a large Italian family on Christmas Eve as they prepare for the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes, reminisce about the past and seek love in the future.

Director: Robert Tinnell

Writer: Robert Tinnell

Starring: Skyler Gisondo, Madison Iseman, Josh Helman, Ray Abruzzo, Addison Timlin, Paul Ben-Victor, Joe Pantoliano, Andrew Schulz, Lynn Cohen

Year: 2019

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: US


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