Kettle Of Fish

I’ll admit it (though it probably won’t come as much of a surprise): I’m a sucker for romantic comedies.

Given the right mood on the right rainy Saturday, I’ll pause (for the three hundred and twenty-sixth time) to watch Harry run through the streets of New York to find Sally (“I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”).

I might even sit a spell to root for Melvin’s grumpy, bungled pursuit of Carol (“Some of have great stories, pretty stories that take place at lakes with boats and friends and noodle salad.”) when TNN runs “As Good As It Gets.” Again.

Heck, I’ll even pop on my copy of “High Fidelity” and watch Rob pine for Laura — even though Iben Hjejle doesn’t begin to approach Nick Hornby’s vision (“She’s got one of the best all time laughs in the history of all time laughs, she laughs with her entire body. She’s loyal and honest, and she doesn’t even take it out on people when she’s having a bad day. That’s character.”).

I like to let love rule. I like witty banter. I like to laugh, and cry, and find a happy ending. Who doesn’t?

I was not one to quarrel, then, when Abbi selected “Kettle of Fish” as our first (and her only) Tribeca Film Festival screening. Something, it would seem, appealed to the synopsis as she poured over the festival guide a few weeks ago…

A lifelong bachelor (Matthew Modine) confronts his intimacy issues when he sublets his apartment to a fetching biologist (Gina Gershon). His heartsick fish and his wise best buddy are on hand to provide perspective.

I can’t imagine what it was.

Matthew Modine filed in. Gina Gershon sat down (hubba hubba). The lights dimmed, and we were off…

Matthew’s breezier than he’s ever been, though maybe just a few years too mature for the part (which became especially apparent when he said during the Q&A afterwards that he’s been married for twenty-six years). Gina plays beautifully against type as a “frog biologist,” complete with British accent, librarian glasses and tussled hair (hubba hubba).

There’s a lot of set up, a lot of talk (which I’m not knocking: I’ll take Woody Allen any day), a fair amount of uneven acting on behalf of the supporting cast, and a healthy dose of cheese. Director Claudia Myers said she was inspired by ’50s screwball comedies. There’s a whiff of that here. But her characters don’t go quite far enough. And the whimsy is lost when she veers into Nora Ephron territory.

What makes “Kettle of Fish” such a triumph is that — despite everything (and everyone) that is working against it — you’re pulling for them. They’re likeable. You want it to work out. You want a happy ending. (Or at least you want it to end badly so that Gina Gershon knocks on your door!)

“Kettle of Fish” is (forgive me) neither fish nor fowl. It’s neither full on, feel-good Hollywood schlock, nor gritty New York City art film. That’s ok, though. There’s room for compromise. Given a little thinning (Ms. Myers is clearly in love with all of her footage, but — here I go again — something’s gotta give), and the unflinching eye and relentless tinkering of, say, a Harvey Weinstein (or “Harvey Scissor Hands,” as the industry likes to refer to him), the pacing can be remedied. And Ms. Myers, Ms. Gershon, and Mr. Modine will have their happy — dare I say, their Hollywood? — ending.

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