Feast of the Seven Fishes is a Christmas romance movie, and it is certainly one of the more unique and enjoyable ones I’ve seen in recent years. The Italian tradition of the feast of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve isn’t an event I knew much about, so it was nice to learn of the preparation that goes into it, as well as visually feast on all the food sequences (shrimp never looked this good). The Italian family set-up feels very authentic, with writer/director Robert Tinnell (“Grindsploitation”) using family video footage to enhance the sense that we are watching a real Italian family get together and celebrate the feast. He also gives us a wonderful main character in the form of Tony (Skyler Gisondo, “Booksmart”).
I have been a fan of Skyler ever since “Santa Clarita Diet,” where he plays the sensitive, lovable nerd with aplomb. He doesn’t deviate much from that characterization here, now taking on the role of a sensitive, lovable artist. Tony is part of a big, bustling Italian family, and feels that the expectation required of him is to go to business school and help run the family business. However, it is clear from the get-go that art school is what he wants. The film sets this up quickly from the beginning, and Gisondo does a good job of communicating his quiet passion through subtle looks of yearning, while having to deal with his parents’ dismissal of his art as a mere hobby.
This is where love interest Beth (Madison Iseman, “Annabell Comes Home”) enters the picture. Beth is dealing with a loss in agency in her love life, given her mother’s interference and her boyfriend’s objectification of her. So when she meets Tony during a double date of sorts, she is drawn to the way he converses and thinks about the world, as well as the way he cares about her views and opinions. We find ourselves rooting for the two the moment they start talking to one another, each one encouraging the other to want more for themselves, which is done is a really genuine way.
Because Feast of the Seven Fishes is a romantic movie of sorts, we require a complication or obstacle. For Beth it’s the undefined state of her relationship with her boyfriend, while for Tony, it is ex-girlfriend Katie (Addison Timlin, “Sleeping in Plastic”). Gisondo and Timlin have great physical chemistry together — in all their scenes together, we feel like voyeurs about to witness a full-on make-out session at any moment. It is clear that Katie hasn’t moved on from the relationship, and though Tony still has feelings for her, he is further along on the path of moving on. Timlin does such a great job as Katie, her vulnerability showing in moments when she is alone, especially since she has such an isolated family life. Losing Tony also means losing his family, which is certainly hard to deal with during Christmas.
His sprawling Italian family are such fun to watch on screen, with Joe Pantoliano (“From The Vine”) as Uncle Frankie and Lynn Cohen (“The Vigil”) as Nonnie particular standouts. Pantoliano is protective of his nephew Tony and the movie humorously tries to insinuate that he might be involved with the mob. Nonnie is still reeling from the loss of her husband despite the years that have passed, and Tinnell does a great job at contrasting the past with the present. In the past, choice and autonomy was not a readily available thing. As immigrants, they did what they could to survive in a new environment, and the jobs that were taken on was to feed mouths and put food on the table. Nonnie didn’t experience a regular courtship with her husband, with her picking him out from a line of men, yet she grew to love him and created a life with him.
It is different for Tony because he gets to live out what others before him could not. This is the whole point; the struggles of the ones before allow the future generations to live better lives. Tony martyrs himself because he feels he has to, but towards the end comes to the realization that he should have trusted in his family more.
Feast of the Seven Fishes is a movie with a lot of heart, swirling with emotion and nostalgia, using the Christmas setting to great advantage. It is the kind of movie that feels like a warm beverage on a cold day, soothing and warm, wrapping you in a tight embrace of family and love — what more could you ask of a Christmas movie?