Dream with the Fishes

(Finn Taylor, USA, 1997)


The three dirtiest words in contemporary cinema: American independent film. Australian Distributors scrape the bottom of this still-fashionable barrel and come up with shockers like God’s Lonely Man (1996) and Swingers (1996).

Dream with the Fishes is another lazy ramble through a formula that includes a road movie plot, vignettes of a grunge lifestyle, hip musical selections for the soundtrack CD and – horror of horrors – a personal journey of transformation and self-realisation for the characters.

And what bores these characters are. Terry (David Arquette) is an uptight, neurotic suit driven to a suicide attempt by the death of his wife. He is saved by Nick (Brad Hunt), an amoral, free-living, counter-culture type who drives an unusual bargain: if Terry subsidises a couple of Nick’s lifelong fantasies, then Nick will gladly end his new buddy’s life.

Now it’s time for the freewheeling, high-living road movie section of the film – darkened, eventually, by the news of Nick’s terminal illness, and his sentimental desire to patch things up with his unlovely, conservative folks.

Roping in a confusing parade of women (played by Cathy Moriarty, Anita Barone and Kathryn Erbe), debuting writer-director Finn Taylor makes sure his pale heroes experience everything before the end of their journey: fun, tears, enlightenment, sex.

Almost miraculously, given how poorly Dream with the Fishes is conceived and executed, there are some touching moments. Set against contemporaneous releases like Phenomenon (1996) or The Evening Star (1996) which treat the drama of illness and death with such airy unreality, any movie that lingers a little on such pain and suffering is bound to be affecting.

But a few small sniffles are not enough to make a good film.

© Adrian Martin October 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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