Standing on Fishes

SXSW Film Fest 1999–A nice idea that would have made a charming short is extended to the limits of feature-length picture in Standing on Fishes, a contempo romantic comedy about the amorous and professional odyssey of a young sculptor, who fights to maintain his artistic and personal integrity in L.A.'s commercial art world.

Meredith Scott Lynn, who co-directed with her leading man and scripter, Bradford Tatum, shines as the central female character, but her exuberant performance is contained in a contrived film that gets progressively irritating and excessively verbose. Theatrical prospects are slim for a modest comedy best suited for the regional festival road.

Caleb (Bradford Tatum), a young, potentially gifted artist, is hired by flamboyant filmmaker Richard Verk (Kelsey Grammer) to construct prosthesis for female genitalia. Though way beneath his artistic aspirations, Caleb decides to take the compromising job in order to pay his mortgage. Ambitious actress Erica (Lynn), his g.f of two years, does not make it easier for him with her incessant, politically correct criticism. Erica doesn't only resent Hollywood's objectification of women, but has strong opinions about her own sexual gratification.

The first quarrel about their sexual needs–and what specific physical positions they should engage in to fulfill their libidos–is poignant and funny, but it's repeated at least two more times in the course of the narrative. Not surprisingly, their relationship begins to unravel and ultimately collapses–both Caleb and Erica are so self-absorbed and immersed in their own world, that they can hardly enjoy each other's company.

Contrasted with Caleb is co-worker Jason (Jason Priestly), a passionate, if naive guy who shares his daily adventures with Caleb. Jason rhapsodizes about fathering the child of a woman he just met two days ago; he's terribly upset when she determines to get an abortion without consulting him. Further complicating matters is Camille (Lauren Fox), a flighty woman, stimulated by nature and flowers, who rents Caleb's small guest house and immediately becomes smitten with him. Camille serves as the catalyst for Caleb's crisis and subsequent reexamination of his basic values.

Some humor prevails in the background, in scenes that involve Caleb displaying his creation in a restaurant to Verk and his assistant Janice (splendidly played by Pamela Red). However, the jokes about the vulgar nature of the film industry are old hat by now. Both the writing and direction are vastly uneven and, after the first reel, yarn loses its steam to the point where its reasonably satisfying resolutions don't matter much when they arrive.

A dynamo of an actress, Lynn carries the film, which also benefits from the graceful work of its handsome lead, Tatum. Cast against type, Priestly gives a rigid, actorish performance, and same goes for Lauren Fox, in a turn that's more annoying than entertaining. Modest production values accentuate the static nature of this dialogue-driven movie.
Credits

A Standing on Fishes production. Produced by Meredith Scott Lynn and Alan Welch. Executive producer, Sheilah Goldman. Directed by Meredith Scott Lynn and Bradford Tatum. Screenplay, Tatum. Camera (color), Mark Mervis; editor, Skip Spiro; music, Juliet Prater; production design, Mark Hofeling; costume design, Karen Swerling; casting, Karen Church.

Running time: 89 min.

Cast:

Caleb……..Bradford Tatum
Erica…Meredith Scott Lynn
Jason……..Jason Priestly
Camille……….Lauren Fox
Janice……….Pamela Reed
Verk………Kelsey Grammer