Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A sad-sack loser gets mentored by a rugged older person, and their reluctant friendship eventually helps the loser get it together and warms the heart of the older person. Such is the plot of Fishbowl California, a not-unpleasant watch that has no ambitions when it comes to reinventing the wheel. In fact, the wheel is so perfect to it that it doesn’t even have to do anything. The wheel can sit there and be admired. Leave it alone. It’s magnificent.
The loser in Fishbowl California is Rodney (Steve Olson), an unemployed and soon-to-be homeless man who’s so unambitious that he can’t even be bothered to name his goldfish. After he’s evicted from his apartment and finds out his girlfriend (Katrina Bowden) is cheating on him, he finds himself at the lowest point of his life. A chance encounter with June (Katherine Cortez) eventually results in him living with her and doing her household chores in exchange for a roof and some food, and they eventually bond in ways that only characters in indie comedies can.
There’s not a whole lot more to Fishbowl California. It’s about the bonding of these two people and how they grow because of one another’s presence. The actual cause-and-effect chain of how this growth develops is a little muddled; a lot of it seems to happen more randomly than because of their friendship. Rodney, especially, stays pretty much the same throughout; he just “grows” by being handed an opportunity.
That lessens a lot of the film’s potential to generate an emotional response from the audience. So does the generic feeling that permeates the picture. It’s difficult to get truly invested when it feels like you’ve seen almost every scene before, and that happens with Fishbowl California. In order to overcome that, we need to really invest in these characters. If we want to see them grow and improve their lives, the broad, unimaginative strokes with which it’s painting become less bothersome. But Rodney is bland and June is grumpy, and only the latter gets much when it comes to redeeming qualities—and hers is more of an explanation than anything else.
If there’s one area in which Fishbowl California succeeds, it’s in the acting. Despite not having the strongest characters, Steve Olson and Katherine Cortez are both compelling on-screen presences, and if the film had better writing then they’d have really gotten a chance to shine. There are also bit roles from the likes of Katrina Bowden, Quinton Aaron, Jenna Willis, Jared Kusnitz, Lucas Krystek, and Kate Flannery—but they don’t have enough screen time to do much.
Fishbowl California is a harmless but unambitious indie comedy that feels like many other movies you’ve seen before, but has a few laughs and is never terribly unpleasant. Its generic feeling and lackluster characters keep it from being something that’s terribly worthwhile. It has good actors, many of whom are restricted to bit roles, but doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from the pack.
Conclusion: Fishbowl California is an inoffensive but generic comedy.
Recommendation: It’s a rainy afternoon watch at best.