Some movies are an argument against making movies; some marriages are an argument against having kids; and this addled New York indie neatly manages both feats at the same time. French filmmakers Lola Bessis and Ruben Amar shot their debut feature mostly in English, with Bessis playing 19-year-old Lilas, a sexy couch surfer and aspiring artist who gently disrupts the fraying marriage of Mary and Leeward (Brooke Bloom and Dustin Guy Defa). The latter couple have a cute 3-year-old daughter and a Chinatown apartment overrun with hipster pals, precious little talent evident among them. Mary is meanwhile a nurse hoping to buy a house in Jersey, growing ever more impatient with her musician husband’s anti-capitalist/slacker rhetoric. (He specializes in the genre of twee toy piano rock, but refuses to make demos, because this is the kind of movie where musicians won’t publicize their own art.)
Bessis and Amar show a great deal of affection toward New York, and for movies shot in New York during an earlier era (think: Something Wild), which is far greater than their enthusiasm about the hard, dull business of screenwriting. The marital conflict is rote, Leeward’s suburban Jewish family is dangerously close to stereotype, and Lilas’ mommy issues toward her famous artist mother (Anne Consigny) are clumsily sketched. There’s a generosity of spirit here, embodied by Leeward (also called Benjamin), who seems to befriend everyone he meets; yet none of those new characters add any impetus to the paltry plot.
Even as Lilas’ uncertain art-making gradually assumes more importance (she’s a filmmaker, natch), Little Fish unintentionally sides you with the practical-minded Mary and her worried in-laws, not the flighty bohemians. “I’m too old to have all these roommates!” wails Mary, who’s trying to scrape together the down payment for a mortgage. Of course Lilas, with her looks and wealthy mother, can’t comprehend such desperation. Give her 10 years, add some wrinkles, and take away her money—then this naive young artist might understand. New York has a way of doing that to people. Runs Fri., Oct. 24–Thurs., Oct. 30 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 95 minutes.