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The Annihilation of Fish

The Annihilation of Fish (2001)
December 11, 2011 - 7:00 pm
Charles Burnett.

Directed by Charles Burnett

Director Charles Burnett performs a delightful directorial turn with this funny and tender study of outsiders and misfits finding love and happiness through a healthy dose of tolerance—but not the kind of tolerance that movies usually sell! 

Poinsettia (Lynn Redgrave) is a former housewife, living alone with unrequited dreams of romance that only her imagined lover, the 19th-century composer Giacomo Puccini, can fulfill.  Disgusted at a world that scoffs at her love and her plans of marriage to Puccini, she moves to Los Angeles for a change of scene.  Taking a room in the boarding house of feisty Mrs. Muldroone (Margot Kidder), Poinsettia meets the other new tenant: Fish (James Earl Jones), a Jamaican widower recently released from an overcrowded mental institution despite his daily physical bouts with an unseen, demonic assailant who attacks him without warning, nor any visible trace. 

It’s not long before these neighbors become lovers.  What happens next is very special, as Poinsettia and Fish, each regarding the other as nuts, move steadily toward the light of love past all imaginary inconveniences, finally participating fully in each other’s worlds, regardless that this leads to new peaks of imaginative excess.    

Burnett’s cast give their all to these tasty roles; particularly Redgrave and Jones, who demonstrate a hilarious commitment to the pantomime required, and a keen instinct for those moments when emotional need becomes the story’s compass. Margot Kidder as Mrs. Muldroone is all wry, understated discretion; if anything, happy for the human interest her house attracts and fosters.  The prospect of love across racial barriers is the smallest challenge to happiness in this rarefied world, where Poinsettia can joyfully answer Fish’s challenge, “what we got in common?” with the quick (and sane) response, “old! Old is what we’ve got in common!”  Watching them become young again is an ensemble’s and a director’s triumph. —Shannon Kelley

Producer: Paul Heller. Screenwriter: Anthony C. Winkler. Cinematographer: John Ndiaga Demps. Editor: Nancy Richardson. Cast: James Earl Jones, Lynn Redgrave, Margot Kidder, Tommy Hicks, Linden Chiles.

35mm, color, 102 min.