According to Hillary Clinton, she spent the summer of 1969 working her way across Alaska before starting her law education at Yale. One of these jobs was sliming salmon in a fish cannery, but when she complained about the hazardous conditions in the factory, they promptly fired her and shut down. Directors Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak have used that unverified time in the politician’s life as the subject for their fictional biopic When I’m a Moth. It’s exactly as interesting as it sounds.
“…Hillary Clinton…spent the summer of 1969 working her way across Alaska…sliming salmon in a fish cannery…”
Young Hillary Clinton (Addison Timlin) spends the majority of her time in Valdez, Alaska elbow-deep in fish guts with no life outside of work. On her way home every day, she walks past two silent Japanese men, the older Mitsuru (Toshiji Takeshima) and Ryohei (TJ Kayama), who is about her age. Out of curiosity, she talks to them one day and they get drunk together. Soon they’re drinking buddies, but Hillary and Ryohei find themselves drawn to each other for what can only be a doomed relationship.
You know how comedies mock art films with actors stiffly reciting dialog with long pauses between lines? This is that movie. It’s difficult to determine whether Timlin’s aggravated rigidity is intentional in her portrayal of her subject or if she just can’t act. Kayama keeps his sulk factor turned up to Robert Pattinson eleven and doesn’t budge. They have long boring conversations about nothing, and neither of them has enough personality or likeability to make anyone care. There isn’t even any artful nudity to make it appeal on that level. You’re better off stubbing your toe on a door frame because at least then you’ll feel something.
“…better off stubbing your toe on a door frame because at least then you’ll feel something.”
The one thing the film has going for it is beautiful photography. The shots are actually so well-composed, they rope you in and keep you interested, that is until you realize you’re halfway through and don’t care about anything onscreen. Of course, this is an art film, which calls for a few purposely out-of-focus images, but they aren’t enough to ruin the single redeemable quality that keeps the film from being a completely putrid bucket of salmon innards.
Every so often, a movie comes around that’s so dreadful, you wonder what prompted anyone to want to waste your time to that level. When I’m a Moth holds that dubious distinction. Whether you’re huge Hillary Clinton fan or you’re just interested in independent cinema, you can find something better to watch.
When I’m a Moth (2019) Directed by Zachary Cotler and Magdalena Zyzak. Written by Zachary Cotler. Starring Addison Timlin, TJ Kayama, and Toshiji Takeshima. When I’m a Moth screened at the 2019 San Francisco Film Festival.
3 out of 10 stars