If the name Little Fish, Strange Pond doesn't ring a bell, it may be because you've crossed the film in stores as Frenemy, its more commonly used alternative title. Gregory Dark's dark comedy is generally available but it's not a film for the masses. Raw, unfocused and bitter, it's a comedy that thrives on wry smiles and surprise rather than lame jokes and running gags. The result is a refreshing mix of dark and absurd humor and one of the best American comedies I've come across.
Little Fish, Strange Pond has some of the most deceptive marketing tools I've ever come across. Its new title (Frenemy) coupled with the Zach Galifianakis dominated cover say it all really. When I came across it in stores I expected a pretty typical (Hangover-like) comedy headed by the hairy man. It turns out that Galifianakis is only 10 minutes in there, the real focus lies on the two little guys in the background and isn't nearly as SFW as your average American comedy. Then again, considering the difficult time you'd have trying to market a film like this, why not shamelessly sucker the masses into buying it by making the film look a lot friendlier than it really is?
Instead of some silly Galifianakis antics, the film is all about Sweet Stephen and Mr Jack. Sweet Stephen is the younger of the two and looks at Mr Jack as his mentor in life. Mr Jack likes to speak in accents and is the one with all the answers. Two weird characters who love to lose themselves in Tarantino-like dialogues, though with a bit more depth to them. They talk life, death, chance, faith and other such puzzling topics.
The beginning of the film goes literally nowhere. Between the conversations you get some unrelated scenes featuring a TV-show host and a police guy. There is no real plot, no obvious hook to pull you in. The film goes scene by scene and relies on the individual scenes to keep you occupied. It works as long as you trust the film to take you to a place where everything comes together. It turns out you have to wait a good hour to get anywhere close to that, so be warned.
Even though the film is built around the dialogues, Dark makes sure Little Fish, Strange Pond remains visually challenging. There are some very cool tracking shots, an impressive 360, some nice filter trickery and a couple of scenes that make good use of lighting to create a dense and uncomfortable atmosphere. It's not a film you watch for the visuals, but if you pay close attention you'll see that there is actually quite a lot to enjoy.
The soundtrack on the other hand is extremely forgettable. Even a single day after watching this film I have forgotten all about the music that was featured here. It's probably not such a bad thing either, considering the way the film really focuses on dialogues and wouldn't really benefit from an overbearing score to muffle the things that are being said. Then again, it couldn't have been that difficult to find a couple of tracks to enforce the atmosphere without detracting too much from the rest.
If you are watching this film because you are a Galifianakis fan, be aware that he only appears for about 10 minutes in the beginning of the film. After that you won't see him again. I didn't really mind because Modine and Blue are the real stars of this film and carry it with flair. While they have strong dialogues to work with, their timing and presence are impeccable and they both bring a lot of extra energy to the film.
All things considered, Little Fish, Strange Pond is a pretty grim and dreary film. There is plenty to laugh at, ranging from juvenile to more clever and witty humor, but the film has a way of spinning the mood around whenever it becomes too comfortable. One moment you're watching a pretty uplifting conversation between Jack and Stephen lying in bed, the next your looking at a female corpse spread out on the floor.
Do not expect to watch an everyday comedy when you sit down for this one, because I assure you, you will be disappointed. Instead try to get acquainted with the two main characters and let yourself be swept away by their demented view on reality. The film can be crass and grim at times, but at least it never backs down from what it aims to be. This American no-concessions comedy deserves a little more praise than it's been getting, so don't miss it when you get the chance.