Film Review: Swim Little Fish Swim

Yet another dull entry in the indie downtown New York artist genre. So young and so vapid.

The audacity of some filmmakers knows no boundaries sometimes. In Swim Little Fish Swim (precious title, that), we are asked to care about the plight of the annoyingly named Leeward (Dustin Guy Defa), a musician who is, even more annoyingly, unemployed and refuses to take a commercial gig to help out his struggling family. They consist of his hard-working nurse wife Mary (Brooke Bloom) and their four-year-old daughter (Olivia Durling Costello), whom she calls Maggie and he—persistent in his annoyance—calls Rainbow. Into their lives lands Lilas (Lola Bessis), a young French video artist who, against Mary's wishes, crashes on their couch, while trying to prove herself professionally so she can get a visa to stay in the country.

Director/writer/producer/star Bessis was 21 years old when this film was made, four years younger than Orson Welles was when he directed Citizen Kane. However, on the evidence of her movie, I doubt that even twice that number of years would result in anything to approach that 1941 masterpiece. Her world view here is suffocatingly claustrophobic, centered around Leeward's arty/bohemian, downtown Manhattan (which has already moved to the outer boroughs), populated by no one you really want to meet. What "art" is on display, visually and aurally, is profoundly uninteresting, so this basically becomes a study of the self-obsessed and utterly deluded, wasting their lives, shot with trendily quivering hand-helds and every other mumblecore cliché in the book.

Thankfully, Bloom manages to make her scenes at lest watchable as the sole voice of reason, who is consistently ignored as if she were Cassandra shrieking about that dangerous wooden horse. Defa has endless scenes of whimsical playtime with his daughter, strums a ukulele, buys a fish for her and a hideous Shabat hat for his controllingly indulgent mother, and is at all times the kind of galling, self-absorbed hipster you want to smack upside the head. Bessis tries to outdo that mistress of gamine cuteness, Audrey Tautou in the cloying Amélie, for adorable pertness, and unfortunately succeeds.

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