Blink and you might miss the understated beauty of this movie. Skyler Gisondo’s Tony Oliverio and Madison Iseman’s Beth Claremount evoke a feel-good Christmas magic as they embark on an unexpected journey of self-awakening through their impromptu romance.
Set in 1983, the self-searching youngsters are brought together by the holidays and find kinship in their desire to escape their circumstances. There’s Beth, who longs to relieve herself from the pressures her wealthy social status brings and the expectations placed on her as a woman who’s role is little more than a supporting act to her complacent boyfriend. Then there’s Tony who feels the weight of familial responsibility; who has been groomed to run the family business and feels his dreams of being an artists stifled by his duties.
Their growing bond and angst surrounding their big life choices is all filtered through the lens of The Feast of the Seven Fishes, (or rather the gear up towards it). A tradition observed by Italian Americans where they gorge on an indulgent spread of seafood to mark Christmas Eve.
It won’t win top prizes for Christmas movie of the year. Its appeal isn’t an obvious, in your face, razzle-dazzle but it does have a certain subtle lure. This is largely owning to the budding relationship between Tony and Beth but also the Oliverio family.
Beth becomes embroiled in the preparation for the Feast losing herself in the festivities and the warmth of the family and so do we the viewers. The Olivearos fold you into their colourful lives with a welcoming joy and laughter that’s befitting of the season. However, step out of line and you’ll quickly feel the brunt of their wrath seen by uncle Frankie (Joe Pantoliano) and Lynn Cohen’s Nonnie and their very different yet similarly cut-throat approach to protecting Tony.
Not a lot really happens in this movie. A jealous ex and an estranged boyfriend stir up some trouble, love blooms and there are some nods to the self-reflection we all feel at this time of year through a number of characters but no real oomph. A great cast really and truly make up for it though. From the overly involved, bickering yet lovable trio of elders (Uncle Carmine [Ray Abruzzo ] Johnny [Paul Ben-Victor] and Uncle Frankie) who take ownership of the Feast to a disapproving great-grandmother throwing around curses and insults in Italian. It’s a cosy, comfortable blanket of a film that makes for an endearing watch.