Authentic and charming, this red sauce-drenched slice-of-life comedy sort of feels like the "happy family" side of one of Scorsese's mob dramas. There's a glowering grandma, plates of antipasti, old uncles in the kitchen soaking pans of baccala, and everyone gathered around the table for dinner, sharing plates of delicious-looking food and swapping stories. The tale being told here is a simple one (some might even call it a bit thin): A sweet, artistic young man looks for and finds love and personal freedom even as he chafes within the confines and expectations of his loving family and small traditional community.
Gisondo, who was so self-effacingly charming in Booksmart, makes an appealing main character that audiences will root for, and all the kitchen scenes may have them longing to step right into the movie and pull up a chair. There's a beautiful vignette in which Tony explains to Beth how his family prepares the traditional seven fishes while lustrous images show them being cooked and the finished dishes: baccala in tomato sauce and deep-fried in balls, whiting in a cast-iron pan with garlic and red pepper, smelt and calamari and shrimp and oysters and eel. (If your mouth isn't watering after all that, you must have eaten just before you watched.) But as agreeable as it all is, the romance falls a bit flat because we never get to know Beth: She's a symbol and a prize, not a person. She's on screen to tell Tony how good -- how very, very good -- his paintings are and to give him something to long for. If Seven Fishes could have brought its main female character to life as lovingly as it depicted cooking fish, this movie would hit on all cylinders. As it is, it's sweet, easy to like, and a little insubstantial, a holiday treat that melts in your mouth and then fades away.