-By Frank Lovece

For movie details, please click here.

Once you get past the oh-gimme-a-break conceit of the screenwriter titling the movie and the lead character after himself, this feature debut by writer Reed Fish and director Zackary Adler charms you with a quirkiness that feels oddly genuine and unforced. While the real-life Fish is a screenwriter who's lived in tony Brentwood, California, and Manhattan, rather than in the fictional hamlet Mud Meadows, his precise picture of an awkward young man trying to find himself rings true. If you're wondering, by the way, how this lighter-than-air concoction tapped heavyweight Akiva Goldsman as an executive producer, Adler had worked at Goldsman's Weed Road Pictures.

No such industry connection graces the fictional Fish (Jay Baruchel), a gawky chinless-wonder with an overgrown hedge of hair. The 23-year-old Fish runs a low-wattage radio station out of a shed next to his house, where he lives alone after the recent deaths of his parents. Dad had been the mellifluous voice of "The Fish," a news and call-in program where the traffic report involves alerting the town to a resident's flat tire. Fish fils, with his tech-producer buddy Frank Cortez (Victor Razuk), did what was expected and took over the show, the community's glue. In between helping kvetchy townsfolk get a new stop sign and such, Fish also does human-interest stories for what appears to be a public-access TV channel. These tend to feature prize carrots and Zabrina the zorse (a real-life zebra-horse hybrid, played here by one Zeke).

Fish is engaged to Kate Peterson (Alexis Bledel), the pretty and decent, if not particularly deep, girl-next-door. Her father Irv (Blake Clark), a car dealer and local entrepreneur, was close friends with Fish's dad, and the two youngsters were more or less thrown together through a shared tragedy. Fish faithfully lives up to everyone's expectations since, well, that's what everyone expects. But with the wedding three weeks away, his old crush Jill Cavanaugh (Schuyler Fisk, daughter of Sissy Spacek) returns to town four years after she'd gone away to college, and Fish stumbles into a love triangle that turns the town against him in the sort of petty, angry ways that families sometimes will--but not before the film takes a meta-twist, a sort of sideways flash-forward, that energizes an oddball perspective.

Fish is stuttery and tongue-tied for a radio host, and doesn't say sharp and clever things. No one in the film does. And little by little, the banality of everyday chitchat by real people without Noel Coward wit becomes almost a language in itself. Motherly mayor Maureen (Katey Sagal), bartender Ralph (Chris Parnell), and Jill's cousin Andrew (D.J. Qualls)--a convenience-store manager engaged to a blonde hottie (A.J. Cook) who wouldn't look at him twice in the big city but who grew up with him and loves him to death--all say the same trite but not trivial things, until their shared inarticulateness reaches a state of peasant poetry.
Adler is an adequate if not evocative director, favoring Brobdingnagian close-ups, but he gets a natural awkwardness from his actor that another director might have pushed too hard to polish. He also daringly gives Jill, an aspiring singer-songwriter, a fully uninterrupted song that co-writer Fisk delivers as beautifully as any Lilith Fair star. A modest film with modest charms, I'm Reed Fish is a sweet, if slight, catch.

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