Fishbowl California: Review

Fishbowl California

Writer-director Michael A MacRae’s debut feature is immediately reminiscent of a lot of recent TV dram-coms, mining comedy from the aspects of modernity that are either ludicrous or are ludicrously becoming standard. Think Netflix’s Love. Or Netflix’s Flaked. Or Netflix’s Master of None. You get the point.

Most of this comedy comes from Steve Olson’s lead, Rodney, the stereotype of millennial slacker. It is occasionally amusing but more often it is obvious – astounded by the price of coffee, Rodney leaves a café in a huff, forgetting his laptop he had brought with him to use the free wifi. Yes, coffee is expensive and it is not uncommon to see people on their laptops in a coffee house, but attempting to generate laughs from this fact conjures the image of a nervous observation comic playing an empty room. Rodney is presented as an everyman, but that’s not what he is. He has no job, no ambition to get one. He is lazy, rude, and to use that horrible adjective seemingly reserved for my generation, he is entitled. Rodney is essentially Chip from Flaked, but without the alcohol addiction that makes us care. And that is the first problem with Fishbowl California – we are never given a reason to be interested in this character.

Just as Rodney’s life is about to hit rock bottom, he meets June, played by Katherine Cortez. Recently widowed, June waits grumpily for her life to end, living alone with only an occasional phone call or visit from her busy daughter Olivia (Jenna Willis). As the second act kicks in, MacRae’s film begins to lean on the tropes of the mismatched comedy duo: bitter, drunk old woman paired with the youth yet to realise his full potential. Cortez’s performance is one of the film’s few redeeming aspects, but the script never takes a step away from cliché. Whilst Rodney and June inevitably bond and improve each other’s lives, you might be forgiven for pining after the emotional heights of The Untouchables, or the visual joy of Pixar’s Up. 

MacRae’s feature is uncertain in almost every scene. With a well-intentioned, heart-warming plot presumably aimed at an older generation, it insists on appealing to the drifter mentality of late twenty-somethings. It isn’t quite grounded in reality, not enough to be mumblecore, but it isn’t sweet or funny enough to be entertaining to a wide audience. And MacRae doesn’t seem sure of his message. In all likelihood, he is trying to point out the value in friendship and joy when life seems to be at its hardest. Jonathan Levine covered similar ground in his 2011 movie 50/50, albeit with better actors, stronger comedy and a romantic sublot far more delicate than the one in Fishbowl California. All MacRae succeeds in doing is reminding us how Kate Flannery’s talent was wasted in The Office (as it is again here), as well as portraying the residents of California as self-centred and mean.

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