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There is also a romance at the center of Tinnell’s film, and it’s a fairly cute one, even if it’s played with the same low-intensity affability of the rest of the various subplots. Tony meets Beth (Madison Iseman), a rich girl from the other side of town, and she becomes smitten with his quintessential nice-guy demeanor and – of course – the warm welcome she gets from his outspoken but goodhearted family (except for Nonnie, who hates her from the second she lays eyes on her). Beth finds herself invited over for Christmas Eve, and sparks start to fly, but she’s got a boyfriend, and her mom wouldn’t approve, and Tony’s ex (Addison Timlin) is still pining for him, and –

You know what? It’s not really that important.

“Succeeds where so many ‘feel-good’ holiday movies have fallen short: it actually made me feel good.”

If anything, the sitcom-ish plot machinations are just a flimsy scaffolding that supports Feast of the Seven Fishes‘ true charms: the little details and heartfelt moments that make the Oliverios and their small but loving world feel lived-in and welcoming. This is a movie that’s all about the sizzle of a fish fillet hitting a well-oiled, garlic-laden pan, the well-worn wisdom that grandparents pass down to their grandchildren, the way that Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra’s Christmas songs can gin up holiday cheer like nobody else’s. There’s not much in the way of Hallmark-style schmaltz to be found, here – and what there is, at least, is leavened by dick jokes and the occasional fistfight – and the film is at its best when it just sits back, glass of vino in hand, and just lets these lovable, wiseass characters enjoy one another’s company on what is, for them, just another Christmas at home. The warm, nostalgic tones of Jamie Thompson’s cinematography and the art department’s just-right selection of vintage holiday décor complete the package.

All that said, I could probably find a lot of fault with Feast of the Seven Fishes if I looked hard enough. But I’m willing to overlook some clunky screenwriting and off moments in tone in any movie that can bring back fond memories for me as readily as this one did. It’s not that these characters even remind me that much of my own family (my grandmother would never have allowed so many men bumbling around in her kitchen), but the film – sometimes beautifully – conjures the spirit of something that has been incredibly meaningful in my life, and I’m thankful for it.

Thus, I guess you can take my review with a grain of salt – and a pinch of crushed red pepper, to taste. I know I’ll be adding Feast of the Seven Fishes to my regular holiday movie rotation, and even if there’s really nothing all that sad in it, I might get a little misty during one of those viewings. That’s just saudade. And my grandparents. And Christmas Eve. And I’d be a lot sadder without it.

Feast of the Seven Fishes (2019)

Directed and Written: Robert Tinnell

Starring: Skyler Gisondo, Madison Iseman, Joe Pantoliano, Ray Abruzzo, Paul Ben-Victor, Addison Timlin, Josh Helman, Andrew Schulz, Lynn Cohen, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

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"…I'll be adding Feast of the Seven Fishes to my regular holiday movie rotation."

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