Sunday, October 19, 2014

Movie with Abe: Sleeping with the Fishes

Sleeping with the Fishes
Directed by Nicole Gomez Fisher
Released October 21, 2014 on DVD and VOD

Families with mixed heritage can be ripe for comedy material. Combining traditions often leads to confused customs and a bizarre outlook on the world. The title “Sleeping with the Fishes” immediately conjures up an Italian mob comedy, but that’s a misnomer. The Fishes are, in fact, a Latino-Jewish family thanks to the marriage of Estella (Priscilla Lopez) to Dr. Leonard Fish (Tibor Feldman). This story in particular follows their daughter Alexis (Gina Rodriguez), who is trying to put her very messy life back together with more than a bit of unrequested help from her mother and her sister Kayla (Ana Ortiz).

An imagined TV segment of “The $50,000 Clue” begins the film and demonstrates just how much Alexis is criticized by her mother, shown in her nightmare by Estella guessing “things that make her fat” or some variation of that in response to nearly everything her daughter says. The lack of glamor in Alexis’ life is made perfectly clear when she is seen in a Los Angeles burger restaurant dressing in costume as a supposed part of her event planning gig. At home, she accidentally switches between a phone call with her sister and a phone sex call that serves as her side job. Having to fly home to New York for a funeral is hardly worse than having to face the reality of her life.

Once Alexis arrives home, a very predictable series of events begins as Estella backs off on the idea of her daughter going back to dental school and instead gets her a gig planning a Bat Mitzvah for a friend. The odds are stacked against Alexis as she has precious little time to plan the event and a monster mother to work with who bears more than a passing resemblance to Estella in how she treats her daughter. Enter heaven-sent Dominic (Steven Strait), a kind and conveniently attractive guy who seems like the perfect romantic fit designed to contradict every condescending comment made by Estella about Alexis’ size or lack of makeup. From there, it’s not too difficult to see where the film will go and whether Alexis will succeed.

The concept behind Nicole Gomez Fisher’s directorial debut is a good one, but the script is drowning in Estella’s treatment of Alexis and her inability to say anything positive or complimentary about her daughter. The opportunity for jokes about either Latina or Jewish culture is lost, and precious few references are even made. Rodriguez, who is now starring in “Jane the Virgin,” and Ana Ortiz, one of the best parts of “Ugly Betty,” are both great, but this film doesn’t allow them much range. There are pieces of a great story here, but its focus gets in the way too much to be able to tell it.


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