I'm Reed Fish

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 09/25/07 13:41:09

"A quaint, if overly busy, little charmer."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Who is Reed Fish? The answer isn’t so simple, even when tossed a definitive title like “I’m Reed Fish.” The movie was written by Reed Fish, who tells of his adventures as a young man in small town America, but the story’s only quasi-autobiographical. And then we learn that the movie we’re watching is its own semi-autobiographical piece, a film-within-a-film starring the movie Reed Fish as himself; a handful of scenes step outside this film to reveal Reed - the “true” Reed, as far as the narrative is concerned - one year later.

Most of the meta tangling is completely unnecessary; the film-within-a-film conceit seems like a cheap backpedal, a way of covering one’s own navel-gazing dramatics by saying, “Oh, the simplistic plot is all ironic and stuff.” Why bother? Remove the gimmicky structure and forget that the author put his own name in the title, and you’d still have a sweet, charming little indie dramedy. Have more faith in your material, Real Life Reed Fish!

Movie Reed Fish, sharply played by Jay Baruchel, is a twentysomething slacker enjoying the simple life in the impossibly quirky, delightfully sleepy little backwater town of Mud Meadows. Reed’s something of a local celebrity, hosting his own radio call-in show on an ultra-low power station run out of his garage. (There’s also a weekly TV show; I can only assume the station is run out of a friend’s basement.) The radio show is a tradition - Reed’s dad handled it before his death, and now Reed’s struggling to fill those shoes.

Mud Meadows is the sort of small town where the arrival of a prize-winning zorse (half zebra, half horse) makes for a breaking news story, and where kissing another gal when you’re already engaged lands you in trouble with the entire population, most of which will call up your radio show to give you what for. Sure, it’s not reality, but there’s a cuteness factor at play that gives it a certain charm.

The fiancée is town sweetheart Kate (Alexis Bledel), and the other gal is Jill (a scene-stealing Schuyler Fisk), a local gal made good who’s returning from college. (The very act of going away to college makes her another local celeb.) You see, Reed had a massive crush on Jill years ago, and her reappearance in Mud Meadows throws him for a loop. As it should, since it’s obvious that Reed belongs with Jill, not the very nice but utterly un-quirky Kate.

What follows is your standard coming-of-age comedy mixed with your standard youthful romance - a zorse of a movie, if you will. The plot offers few surprises while the kooky side characters (among them DJ Qualls and Chris Parnell) repeatedly push the believability factor. Which may be why Fish and director Zackary Adler opted for the rather peculiar device of making all of this a movie within a movie. It’s a way of apologizing for the very clichés the film ultimately does very well. Instead of owning the story’s predictability, the abrupt revelations surrounding the meta moments suggest Fish and Adler might be a little ashamed of them.

But why? Familiar storylines and over-the-top oddball-ness are both perfectly forgivable - nay, downright acceptable - provided the movie is enjoyable enough, and “I’m Reed Fish” is plenty enjoyable, with light comic moments and sweet personal drama that makes for a breezy, wholly engaging ninety minutes spent with a delightful cast.

Thankfully, the movie’s second layer also works well, so even though it’s an apology made by filmmakers too unconvinced of their own talents, it’s also plenty agreeable. There are some very smart things that happen as the plot flips over on itself, and the script plays with the expectations we have for the characters we’ve come to enjoy.

It should say so much about the strengths of the main story that such post-modern gimmickry doesn’t cause the movie to collapse. Consider the damage that could be done: audiences could stop caring about the characters, knowing now that they’re “just” movie characters, and that what we’re watching is disconnected from the reality that hangs over the meta scenes. And yet once we return to the movie-within-the-movie, we’re caught right back up with Reed and his misadventures. This should tell Fish and Adler that they have something here that works. And while we never truly discover the real Reed Fish, we still have plenty of fun hanging out with the fictional one.

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