****This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.***
As an intern at a film company, I had the opportunity to read the script for The Annihilation of Fish over six years ago. I have since read literally hundreds of scripts and in that time have strongly recommended only four for production. Fish was at the top of my strongly recommend list. I am so very pleased to say that this wonderful cast and beautiful direction has made the script come to life in a vibrant, memorable picture that will erase any filmgoing blahs you may have after a season of largely forgettable films.
James Earl Jones gives an outstanding performance as Fish. A Jamaican immigrant, Fish is a longtime janitor at Grand Central Station. Retired, he worried that suddenly he had no use in life. A friend back in Jamaica went insane when he lost his use, so Fish was nervous. One day when he came home, he saw "a most heinous demon in the hallway lookin' up some poor unsuspectin' woman's dress." Knowing he couldn't allow such a despicable act, he takes it upon himself to wrestle the demon, who continues to come back to harass good people. Due to the fact that no one in the world sees Hank (the demon) but Fish, he lands in an institution for the insane. The movie begins as Fish is released from the institution. He comes to Los Angeles to try to start fresh and lands in a boarding house run by Mrs. Muldroone.
Mrs. Muldroone, played elegantly by an almost unrecognizable Margot Kidder, tends the weed in the garden that caused her husband's heart attack. She takes on this unusual boarder asking whether he has any insidious habits or vices. She's thrilled that a man his age keeps in shape by wrestling.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Poinsettia (played exactly as I thought she should be by the FANTASTIC Lynne Redgrave) watches an outdoor version of a Puccini opera and kisses and fondles absolutely no one sitting next to her. People cast uneasy glances at this crazy lady making out with no one. She's convinced she's having an affair with the ghost of Puccini and tries repeatedly to marry him, but no one, not even the most new age of priests, will marry her to a ghost. Devastated, she leaves her lover and goes to Hollywood for a fresh start.
She too lands in Mrs. Muldroone's boarding house and when asked about her insidious habits and vices, she admits she sings opera. Screeches opera is more to the point. Mrs. Muldroone is glad to have her, IF she closes her door when she sings. Situated right across the hallway from Fish, she squawks and he tries not to listen. One night she decides she has to get out and do something, ties one on and passes out in the hallway outside her door. The requisite gentleman, Fish brings her into his own apartment, covers her with a quilt on his couch and lets her spend the night.
Thus begins a funny friendship. She passes out, he takes her in. They start a conversation, they stop abruptly when Hank the demon comes to wrestle. After one such night, Poinsettia asks if Fish plays cards. They begin a marathon gin game that results in a close, sweet relationship. The bulk of the film passes effortlessly as each of the three main characters battles their own ghosts and demons to become a normal person.
The Director let the actors really dig into the script and the only criticism I have is that there were a few really nice scenes that were distracted by poor focus or underlit shots. The acting in this movie is fantastic. Jones' Jamaican accent and tender mannerisms make him such a lovable looney. And Poinsettia's insistence that she's the only sane one in the house is usually uttered at her most loopy moments. Redgrave gives an outstanding performance. She deserves an Oscar and thought small films are generally overlooked for the big statue, her nomination in the tiny film Gods And Monsters gives me hope that she'll be acknowledged this year.
A sweet romance filled with comic gems, this is really not to be missed by anyone who truly loves a story-driven movie with characters that will stick with you for a lifetime. I never forgot them in the six years since I read that script and now, having seen them fleshed out by these two outstanding actors, I won't be able to forget them forever.
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