Fishbowl California Review
Much like its title suggests, there’s a sunny, orange glow to Fishbowl California (2018) that immediately draws you in and which runs throughout the entirety of this endearing comedy-drama. But just like the many fast food cartons covering Rodney’s (Steve Olson) floor, there is an underlying bleakness to writer-director Michael A. MacRae’s feature debut that gives Fishbowl... an unexpected edge, lifting it above what we’d normally expect from a film such as this.
The ‘fishbowl’ itself refers to one of the many things in Rodney’s life that isn’t going anywhere, his girlfriend (Katrina Bowden) stating early on that he can’t even think of a name for his goldfish, let alone decide on what he wants to do with himself. Cue several failed job interviews as Rodney tries to pull his socks up and adult as much as possible, while also avoiding the inevitable eviction from his tiny apartment. But when he finds out his girlfriend has moved on without him, a chance encounter with a cantankerous older lady called June (Katherine Cortez) gives the down-on-his-luck Rodney a new opportunity and a place to take stock of where his life is (or isn’t) heading, while the alcoholic, increasingly ill June also begins to see the error of her ways.
It is this central relationship between Rodney and June which drives the story, this unlikely pair gradually learning and growing from each other in a way that only people in films can. Indeed, although this age-old cinematic trope is in real danger of being predictable, Fishbowl... is able to mostly keep you on your toes throughout, even turning in an ending which is, although not exactly groundbreaking, a delight to see. MacRae’s ability to keep a delicate balance between the comedy and the drama throughout helps in this respect, but it is both Olson and Cortez’s brilliant performances and onscreen chemistry that really sell this odd couple aspect, scenes between the two always a joy to watch, even during the more sombre moments. Cortez in particular is stellar as June, her bitter yet touching portrayal really emphasising the solitude that June tries to blank out every day. Her performance also results in some truly heartbreaking scenes later on, especially when it becomes apparent how sick she really is.
However despite these triumphs, it still feels as though the film could have expanded on their relationship even further, making the poignancy, as well as the laughter, resonate all the more. The ending in particular is tied up a little too neatly when it seems like there is so much more to say about Rodney and June’s dysfunctional lives, meaning the realism of the story suffers in the long run. This also isn’t helped by its tendency to rely on the quirky, especially when being used to get a quick laugh. While Rodney and his man-child shtick treads a fine line in this respect, Olson is so appealing in these moments that you can’t help but like this character (his comedy side really coming out in those many job interviews, which are all genuinely hilarious to watch). But characters such as the wise-beyond-his-years-kid (Lucas Krystek) who pops up time and time again to offer Rodney advice is something that, although humorous at first, becomes grating through repeated use – a running gag that seems so unnecessary.
Hit and miss though it may be, Fishbowl California is an enjoyable film that is admirable for wearing its heart on its sleeve, and is more watchable than similar films of its kind. Olson and Cortez really sell it though, their relationship affecting and well-realised, while the overall bright and warm look of the whole film is very appealing. Not the most memorable comedy-drama you’ll ever see, but one in which you can feel the love that went into making it, always an impressive trait for a film.