Coming to theatres and on VOD and Digital in November from writer/director Robert Tinnell, Allegheny Image Factory, Witty Michaels Entertainment and Shout! Studios is a family you might recognize during the holidays who creates the FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES.
It is 1983 and the Oliverio family is preparing to celebrate Christmas their way. Tony (Skyler Gisondo) is an artist who works in his father’s grocery store and has been accepted into art school. He doesn’t want to share the news because he feels his very opinionated Italian family isn’t going to go for it. Cousin Angelo (Andrew Schulz) to the rescue talking him into a night out with him, girlfriend Sarah (Jessica Darrow) and her friend Beth (Madison Iseman).
Slick talking Angelo works his magic and Tony begrudgingly agrees. What is happening at home is Uncle Frankie (Joe Pantoliano), Uncle Carmine (Ray Abruzzo), and Johnny (Paul Ben-Victor) are preparing to make the holiday dinner. Of course all of this is happening under the watchful eye of Tony’s Nonnie (Lynn Cohen), Mom (Nancy Telzerow), and Marian (Jean Zarzour).
As the uncles argue about salting with fish, Tony takes off with Angelo and Sarah to pick up Beth. Almost immediately they hit it off with a few beers and he explains about the Feast of the Seven Fishes to Beth who is intrigued. Just as the conversation gets interesting, he hears that ex-girlfriend Katie (Addison Timlin) might be in trouble. All four jump in the car, rescue the damsel but not before Tony get a knuckle sandwich for his trouble.
Katie tries to make a move but Tony makes it clear that he’s moved on from their relationship and she isn’t at all happy about it. Getting a lecture from his friends, it is Beth who convinces him to stay out and have a good time. In the meantime, Katie decides to hang out with Vince and that doesn’t go well either. It is Juke (Josh Helman) who takes the time to really talk to her finding out that Katie just misses Tony’s family and the holiday coming up.
After the nights events, Tony and Beth share some time in his artists shed in the back of his house. Beth is taken with his work and loves what he has done. He shares a little about his dream and she thinks whatever he dreams he would do! Falling asleep overnight, they are discovered by Noonie who can’t unsee what she sees and goes on a little bit of a verbal rant. Back in the house, everyone starts arriving and Beth is about to meet the craziness of the Oliverio family.
Uncle Frank tells Tony to invite her to dinner to celebrate with the family and truly understand them. While in the car he also gets from Beth who is responsible for the mayhem of the night before intending to make it right. Imagine the surprise when Beth informs her mother that she is going to spend time with the Oliverio family and the rant that ensues but it isn’t going to stop Beth from going.
Arriving, she witnesses the men in the family argue and fuss over the fish dishes that have to be perfect. Tony is surprised to see her there but thrilled as the family holidays are officially in full on mode. After eating they go to church and Beth actually has the chance to get to know Nonnie much better as she explains that there is a different life between she and Tony.
The funny thing – Tony should never have been worried about his very chaotic family because the real chaos and heartbreak is about to come from a place he should have suspected. Seems like perhaps both Tony and Beth might need to come clean about their lives and feelings.
It’s the Feast of the Seven Fishes for their holiday!
Gisondo as Tony is perfection and I loved his reactions when the family was, well, being themselves. There is an innocence about his character yet he has the same look we all do when an older relative finds the chink in our embarrassment armor and exploits it. There is also a knight-ness about this character because he knows what the right thing is and puts himself before others. Gisondo makes it look effortless and perhaps it’s because he has the face of someone you not only totally trust but also expect generosity of spirit.
Iseman as Beth is considered a girl from the rich part of town. That isn’t relatable for the Oliveria family but that doesn’t mean they don’t know how to treat a guest. Tony is taken with her because she can hold a conversation and isn’t afraid to challenge him and gets along with the family. Well, perhaps all but Nonnie played by Cohen who I absolutely love. She is almost exactly how I hope to be as a grandmother some day with anyone who wants to be part of our family, well, maybe without the slights.
Pantoliano as Uncle Frankie knows just what to do for the holiday feast and also will do anything to protect the family and those they consider family. Abruzzo as Uncle Carmine who tackles anyone who tells him how to rinse the fish. He sees what Tony is dealing with and makes it clear he stands by him no matter what.
Timlin as Katie is a young woman who can’t get over Tony and also can’t stop making bad decisions because of hurt feelings. Helman as Juke seems to be the only person around that understands her feelings and isn’t afraid to ask her why she doesn’t treat herself well. Schulz as Cousin Angelo is a character unto himself with his tough talk and big car, Darrow as Sarah is his girlfriend who has an opinion and isn’t afraid to share it. She loves Angelo but wishes he be a bit more like Tony.
Other cast include Ben Martin as Nunnzio, Jackson Nunn as Sab, Isabella Tinnell as Phyllis, Tony Bingham as Tony Sr., Allen Williamson as Prentice, Tommy Lafitte as Bernard.
Writer/director Tinnell says, ” As a kid, I didn’t even know it was called the Feast of the Seven Fishes. It was just something we did every Christmas Eve and it was fun and the food was incredible. It wasn’t like the food you ate in restaurants or at school or even at other kids’ houses. It was anything but bland, anything but mass-produced. It was magic.”
Owing his love of the holiday to his great-grandmother who prepared the food in an old fashioned way, it became clear that he holds on to the memories of family and all those who were around the table. Writing the graphic novel Feast of the Seven Fishes (which won the prestigious Eisner Award at Comic Con in my hometown of San Diego), it also has recipes for the authentic feast that was brought by wife Shannon Tinnell. The novel and film represent Christmas, Food, Italian culture and the best part of the film – the sights and sounds of the 1980’s.
When talking to a filmmaker and director, I often ask what they hope people take away from seeing a film they’ve made. Tinnell has one of the best answers I’ve ever heard to the question because it is filled with heart, soul and memories of a time that isn’t coming back any time soon. He says, ” I’m really hoping when you watch this movie you get hungry and maybe you try to fix some of this stuff yourself. Because like we always say on Christmas Eve – around here everyone is Italian. I can’t make you like this movie but I can promise you one thing, it is authentic. It is real. It is as it was on Christmas Eve in 1983 in our little town on the banks of the Monongahela River. When all the people I loved in my family were still alive. When the food was still a delicious mystery and when the love of your life was out there, somewhere, maybe listening to Spandau Ballet on the jukebox just waiting to meet you. Enjoy.”
FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES is just a beautifully told story about a family that is loud, opinionated and knows how they feel about one another – even if an outsider might not understand. They hold onto traditions like gold and aren’t about to change them for anything and there are still families who believe in traditions. The world moves so fast now that sometimes traditions get lost in the shuffle.
I adore the way Tinnell brings each character aboard, almost as if he’s giving us a moment to adjust to them because, and let’s be honest, they are a handful. Those ‘handfuls’ are family and they are loved and respected as such which brings back so many memories for me personally. The food is made with love, the yelling is done with love, and the chaos is fueled by love. Who could ask for anything more than that?
This is a holiday film that can be watched again and again because the Oliverio family are teachers and reminders of what we hold dear about our own families. Whether we want to admit it or not, all the craziness in the world can’t replace our Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins and extended family who come together even if for only one meal a year during the most precious time of year.
In the end – it’s time for food, family and love!