Some screen icons are so ingrained in our memories, it takes something special for us to move past them.
Viewing Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal recently, I finally laid to rest the image of Death playing Twister with Bill and Ted.
The question was, faced with another inept dreamer called Rodney in Fishbowl California, would I be able to put aside equally iconic wheeler-dealer Del Boy and his frustrated shouts of “RODDERS!” as his little brother screws up again in the UK’s favourite sitcom, Only Fools And Horses?
That I did so is testament to the hilarious Steve Olson, star of Michael A MacRae’s comedy debut about Rodney, a slacker dude who finds that all his friends have put that lifestyle behind them. Even his neighbour Charlie (Lucas Krystek), and he can’t be older than 10.
Californian Rodney is fun but childish and thinks the world owes him a living. Unfortunately he’s pushing 30; and endearingly self-obsessed as he is, it’s time to get off his slowly-deflating airbed in the tiny apartment he can’t afford and Find. A. Job.
His girlfriend Tess (Katrina Bowden) won’t let him move in with her as he’s not even responsible enough to have named his goldfish, and his landlady (Charlie’s mum) is about to kick him out for non-payment of rent.
Next to the wise-beyond-his-years Charlie, Rodney seems even less grown up, a manchild who can’t even remember to lock his own front door. (To be fair, Charlie is one of those precocious kids who will either grow up to be a pro bono lawyer saving the downtrodden, or a serial killer eating them.)
So Rodney hits the job search trail, including an epic interview with potential boss Susan (a brilliant Kate Flannery – someone give this woman her own office-related TV show! Oh).
She needs a CEO’s Assistant, not, as Rodney believes, an Assistant CEO. But even up against a particularly useless incumbent who pours coffee over the photocopier, he fails to get an offer.
Next up it’s a bar job, where he’s asked “How do you make a whiskey sour?”, and to be fair to Rodney that does sound like the first line of one of my 6 year old’s jokes.
With no job and no money, he’s finally kicked out of his home, and heads to Tess’s apartment, pausing only to name his goldfish. Sadly she is otherwise preoccupied with hot young pilot Keith (Tess not the goldfish).
Poor Rodney. Even I felt sorry for him when he met Keith (a genial Jared Kusnitz) and well done writers for not resorting to a gag about him being “a bit tied up” which is what I would have done.
But as the saying goes, there’s a lid for every pot, and across the city lives June (Katherine Cortez), an old and cantankerous widow who drinks too much and then refuses to take her pills because you shouldn’t mix them with booze.
Occasionally her neighbour Woody (Tim Bagley) checks up on her, as we are always advised to do with elderly neighbours who may be lonely, or need our help: ‘Is everything okay June?” “Fuck off, Woody” being a typical exchange.
Still, she’s managed to avoid arthritis if those two-fingered salutes are anything to go by.
June’s trips out seem to be limited to beer runs to the local convenience store, where behind the counter the good-natured and solicitous Chad (Quinton Aaron) dispenses groceries, scratchcards, and with would-be robbers.
Two annoying people, without many friends. But that’s enough about me, and, er, me. Serendipity brings June and Rodney together, for which the rest of us should be extremely grateful.
He helps her round the house and garden, she feeds him and gives him a bed. No not like that! June wouldn’t fancy Rodney in a million years.
Besides she has a hard-working and beautiful daughter much more his age, though Olivia (Jenna Willis) is initially equally unimpressed with her mum’s lodger.
What is so lovely about Goldfish California is how realistically flawed June and Rodney are, which also makes them relatable. (I’m always amazed at people claiming to see themselves reflected in shiny Hollywood films: you have an immaculate all-white kitchen with three ovens and a central island bigger than Hawaii, and a Gateway to Hell in your basement? Really? You honestly expect me to believe your kitchen is like that?).
As housemates, and eventually friends, June and Rodney don’t go on much of a journey beyond Chad’s convenience store. The changes they foster in each other’s lives are more those nudges that push people back onto the trajectory they used to have before bad luck and bad decisions sent them slightly awry.
Rodney remains as good-naturedly bumptious as ever. She teaches him some important truths too. Checking with June that it’s no longer okay to call women bitches because of feminism, she answers him with “YOU are not supposed to call women bitches. But me? A cunt is a cunt”.
And I learned something from Rodney too – I now know what an upper deck is, and it has nothing to do with London buses.
In Fishbowl California, MacRae has crafted a warmly witty movie with a laid-back vibe. It’s accomplished, professional movie-making with a story that never collapses into mawkishness or sentimentality, even when you fear it’s going to.
At times he pushes a situation absolutely as far as it can go, but somehow it still seems believable.
Although it doesn’t really say anything new, it is consistently engaging. Funny, realistic depictions of cross-generational friendships are always welcome, as are interesting roles for complex older women.
Coming in at a brief 83 minutes, if anything the film is too short (I know, I know, I don’t say that very often).
The supporting cast is top-notch and I could have done with more of Susan, Chad, Olivia and Woody. Even if – and I say this even less often about a movie than “it’s too short” – any extra scenes were to be completely unrelated to the plot.
In fact the whole cast is an embarrassment of riches (please, if anyone wants to use that quote remember to add the last two words).
Olson and Cortez in particular are fabulous together as two lonely, misfiring misfits in a world of glossy happiness; finding meaning in each other without losing sight of their real selves.
Which in Rodney’s case still means unabashed presumptuousness, and in June’s sticking two fingers up at the world (and Woody).
Fishbowl California trailer: