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Feast of the Seven Fishes

Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Feast of the Seven Fishes Movie Poster Image
Gender stereotypes, charming family love in Christmas tale.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 99 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Messages of gratitude and humility emerge as characters learn to appreciate their family, their community, their traditions. Some stereotypes and regressive gender messages detract from positive messages. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Family is close and loving; they hug, express love, do one another favors. Tony is a kindhearted young man who treats others thoughtfully, is there for his loved ones. Gender messages can be regressive: A female character says all women end up "charging for it" (sex), wonders whether she's a "slut" because she wants to have sex with her boyfriend. A woman who takes a job stripping is criticized; it's said she's a bad person. A man who calls Philadelphia "city of brotherly love" is called a "fruit" (i.e., gay). When an older woman finds her grandson and a young woman sleeping in separate chairs early one morning, she calls the woman a "puttana" (whore). Some characters also have negative things to say about "uneducated townies" and "cake eaters" (spoiled rich kids). 

Violence

Characters physically fight: A bouncer throws a man out of a bar and gives him a black eye; an uncle revenges the black eye by grabbing the bouncer's nose with pliers and threatening him. Two brothers scuffle over chores; their dad says "Knock off the grab-ass." A character nails an eel to a board; the actual blow and nail going into the eel isn't shown.

Sex

Characters talk a lot about sex: Male characters leer at female ones, call them "stacked," and men speculate that there will be "horny" women around during Christmas holidays. Female characters are criticized for being sexual: A woman is called a "puttana" (whore) for spending the night with a man (they don't have sex), another wonders whether she's a "slut" for wanting to have sex with her boyfriend. A woman takes a job stripping; it's said she doesn't "care about herself." Couples kiss and fall into bed; camera cuts away. 

Language

Strong language includes "s--t," "son of a bitch," "a--hole," "goddammit," and "ass." Also insulting language, especially around gender and sexuality: "slut," "fruit," "f--got," "puttana," "cake eater" (rich kid). 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink enthusiastically, downing beers and liquor at gatherings and at bars. A character who's driving goes to a bar and drinks beer from a pitcher; he never mentions staying sober in order to drive safely. Two characters refer to being "high." Multiple characters smoke cigarettes and cigars. A 15-year-old girl drinks at a bar and throws up on someone's shoes; another woman throws up after drinking. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Feast of the Seven Fishes is a movie about a young man who's chafing against the tight-knit bonds of tradition and family in his small Italian community. Based on writer-director Robert Tinnell's online comic strip, the movie is set in the 1980s; some of the mature content is accurate for that time but will still concern parents, such as a scene in which a man drinks beer and then drives and many scenes in which characters smoke cigarettes and cigars. In two scenes, characters (including a 15-year-old girl) drink too much and then throw up. Two characters also refer to being "high." Strong language includes "s--t," "son of a bitch," "a--hole," and "goddammit," plus insults related to gender and sexuality ("slut," "f--got," "fruit," etc.). There are lots of gender stereotypes, with men leering at a woman and calling her stacked, male characters speculating about "horny" college girls, and women called names like "slut" or "puttana" whenever they're sexual (male characters don't receive similar criticism). A young woman who takes a job in a strip club is criticized; her choice of a job is said to indicate she doesn't care about herself. Characters have physical fights several times, and a boy is told he's "noble" for fighting because he's "rescuing" a friend from working as a nude dancer. One character takes vengeance on another by grabbing his nose with pliers and threatening him. All of that said, the core family is close and loving, and characters learn gratitude and humility as they learn to appreciate their traditions and community. 

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What's the story?

In a small Italian community in 1980s Philadelphia, young artist Tony Oliverio (Skyler Gisondo) is feeling conflicted as preparations begin for his family's traditional Christmas Eve FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES. His family expects him to follow in the Oliverio tradition and become a garbage man. But he wants to go to art school and escape to a different world where ideas, books, and artistic creations matter as much as doing the same things the same way every single year. When Tony meets Beth (Madison Iseman), a private school student who seems to inhabit a more rarefied space, another dream emerges. The movie is based on writer-director Robert Tinnell's online comic strip.

Is it any good?

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. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Italian families tend to be depicted in movies. What images do we associate with them? How are they usually seen? How does Feast of the Seven Fishes compare? Is it similar or different? How do gender stereotypes and other stereotypes play a part? 

  • What do you think the filmmakers are trying to say about peer pressure and going along with others? Are the characters' ambitions taken seriously? Is the role of tradition respected, or are its flaws depicted? 

  • How are female characters treated here? Why does their sexuality earn a different reaction than the male characters'?

Movie details

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