A FISH IN THE BATHTUB (Joan Micklin Silver, 1999)
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Opens Friday, November 8
Brooklyn-born duo Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara were the first couple of American comedy for six decades, from appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, in popular ads for Blue Nun wine, and on their own brief sitcom and more recent web series to their solo gigs on Seinfeld and The King of Queens for Stiller and Archie Bunker’s Place and Kate McShane for four-time Emmy and Tony nominee Meara, who passed away in 2015 at the age of eighty-five. They starred in only one film together, 1999’s little-seen senior-citizen rom-com A Fish in the Bathtub, which is finally getting its theatrical release for its twentieth anniversary, in a 2K restoration opening November 8 at the Quad.
The film, written by Raphael D. Silver, John Silverstein, David Chudnovsky, is part of Joan Micklin Silver’s unofficial Jewish trilogy, which also comprises 1975’s Hester Street and 1988’s Crossing Delancey, neither of which A Fish in the Bathtub can hold a candle to. Stiller and Meara play long-married couple Sam and Molly, who get into a tiff one night at a card game with their friends; the loud and obnoxious Sam shouts down the much calmer, easygoing Molly in a thoroughly embarrassing manner, so she leaves him and moves in with their son, real estate agent Joel (Mark Ruffalo), and his wife and daughter. While Molly starts seeing dullard Lou Moskowitz (Bob Dishy), Jerry shares his problems with a large carp he is keeping in the bathtub. Joel and his sister, Ruthie (Jane Adams), are experiencing their own complicated situations — one of Joel’s clients, the married Tracy (Pamela Gray), is heavily flirting with him, while Ruthie has a new boyfriend at work. Sam isn’t about to apologize, so Molly isn’t about to come back to him, but it is clear that they need each other, for better or worse.
Stiller’s screaming antics are over the top even for him, although he does display some tenderness, while Meara is sweetly endearing in a motherly/grandmotherly way, and it’s great to see a young Ruffalo shaping his craft. The supporting cast is filled with familiar faces, including Doris Roberts, Louis Zorich, Phyllis Newman, Val Avery, Elizabeth Franz, Paul Benedict, David Deblinger, Jonathan Hogan, and Mordecai Lawner — even if you don’t recognize many of those names, you will recognize their faces. There’s a Woody Allen–light aspect to much of the story and the minor characters; the film has some lovely moments, and Stiller, who is now ninety-two, delivers several hilarious laugh-out-loud howlers, but the pace is slow and the narrative circuitous, evoking the endless path taken by the poor carp. So this film might not become part of Stiller and Meara’s legacy — which also consists of their talented children, Amy and Ben, in addition to their other work — but it’s always good to seem them together, whatever the format. Oh, and here’s hoping their real life was nothing like this.