King of Herrings (2014)
Release Date: October 7th, 2014 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Eddie Jemison, Sean Richardson Actors: Joe Chrest, Andrea Frankle, Eddie Jemison, David Jensen, Laura Lamson, John Mese, Wayne Pere
quintet of barflies overstays their welcome, taking shots, drinking beer, musing over racetrack winnings, and finally vomiting in the back alley or singing about the evening’s revelries. The following morning, Richard “Ditch” (Eddie Jemison) has few words to exchange with his cheerless, drug-addled spouse Mary (Laura Lamson) before he heads out for a stroll with “Gat” (David Jensen) to the local café, Anita’s Grill, manned by Augie (John Mese). When Arthur “The Professor” (Joe Chrest) and Leon “The Robot” (Wayne Pere) arrive (completing the fivesome conglomeration from the night before), an argument breaks out over a small sum of borrowed cash, resulting in Ditch dishing out hurtful comments before storming off.
Devising a dastardly retaliation for Ditch’s unsavory behavior, Arthur plots to seduce Mary by stopping at the apartment and running through his wily magazine salesman shtick. Utilizing words of whimsy to paint a fantastical escape from Mary’s humdrum routines, Arthur evokes a curious response from the lonely woman. When Richard gets wind of the ruse, he orchestrates his own ideas of entrapment. Meanwhile, Ditch’s sister Evie (Andrea Frankle), who is getting married to Carlo during the coming weekend, is distraught over an unplanned pregnancy, Mary’s failure to craft a suitable dress for the event, and an untimely encounter with an old acquaintance.
Black-and-white cinematography, abrasive language (which is not as edgy as it thinks it is), smooth jazz, and professional camerawork preside over the angry, dissatisfied tone of hateful ramblings. Disputes about owed monies, soul-sucking executives and wives, lost potential for satisfying relationships, unfulfilling careers, and meager material possessions are contemplated over coffee and soup. The antagonistic Richard isn’t clever in his theories; instead, he rather unwieldily uses mean-spirited manipulation and harassment to gather clues to Arthur’s unoriginal master plan. Gat’s bemusement over opportunities for infidelity (and the varying levels of unforgivable interferences with marital arrangements) is similarly not as complicated as it strives for; instead, it’s contrived, especially considering that the audience never sees his significant other or is given a chance to understand his discontent. And Evie’s romantic roving is based solely on her sorrowful explanations of obligations to the looming marriage. Each character is fashioned to be dislikable or intentionally troubled for the sake of dramatic predicaments – and the result is not stark realism as much as it is just general bitterness.
In the end, it’s all about the feeling of being stuck in depressingly unchangeable circumstances that contribute to overwhelming mediocrity and tedium. Escape and happiness, it would appear, are futile. Assigning blame to avoid taking responsibility for impulsive decisions, numerous lies, a twisted sense of determination, and the dreary contemplation of convenience saturating important life choices plague this dour lot. But why would anyone want to witness midlife crises and angst when the characters have nothing to offer but commonplace routines?
The picture is not so much a focus on the minutia of average dysfunction as it is a mere exercise of the refusal to latch onto a point of significance – or an episode of gravity – for storytelling. Fortunately, when it comes to the acting, there’s an undeniable sense of naturalness and ease to the cast’s exchanges and interactions, as if they’re portraying only slightly skewed representations of their actual selves. But as the story progresses, they’re forced into insincere conversations and disingenuous atonements, steadily drifting away from the casualness of their initial communications. Few sets, minimal roles, and technical quality are admirable elements for an independent film with a shoestring budget; the lack of an engaging story is not.
– Mike Massie