A Lobster Tale has a certain charm and quirkiness that won't let you forget it.

James Plath's picture

He ain't heavy. He's my father.

If you saw Colm Meaney's slick-and-edgy performance as an ultra-bad guy in "Layer Cake" and haven't caught this indie flick yet, you'll be surprised at how equally comfortable he seems playing a likeable, struggling New England lobsterman with a wife and son in "A Lobster Tale."

Playing opposite young Jack Knight ("Queer as Folk") and Alberta Watson ("Angela's Eyes," "24"), Meaney has got the New England accent down, along with the taciturn easygoing manner of those who make a living lowering lobster pots into the Atlantic and hoping for a catch that's big enough to buy britches for your boy and maybe a coat of paint for the house.

Though this is an edited dramatization with standard cuts and leaps in narrative, it almost feels like real time, just as it feels like real people, with only a few of the townspeople played for laughs. But "A Lobster Tale" is mostly a serious magical real tale of lobsterman Cody Brewer (Meaney), who one day pulls up a trap and finds a strange green moss. Typical of stories that contain magical realism, this moss is the only magical element in an otherwise realistic narrative. We don't know what makes it magical, but the results speak for themselves. Shortly after Cody finds it, he whacks off his finger while trying to fix the propeller on his outboard motor, and jams the severed digit and his hand into the pot. Miraculously, he finds that the finger has reattached, and it's as good as new. Then, when he gets back to the dock the owner of a bait store runs out of the building with his arm aflame, the result of a grease fire. And so Cody decides to try something "funny," and darned if the green goop doesn't heal the burned arm just as handily (pun intended) as it did his finger.

Small towns being small towns--fishing or otherwise--what happens next is a version of telephone, and interestingly enough, director Adam Massey chose to include an up-angle shot of telephone poles here: Word spreads that the Brewers have this magical moss, and in a fairly predictable set of sequences to follow, we watch how every resident approaches him to ask for some of the moss to cure their ailments. One man has a third nipple he'd just as soon lose, a woman has a bunion that keeps her from wearing her favorite sandals, another man who works in a junkyard has halitosis, and an older man wants the stuff to smear on his junk so he can revive his marriage after 45 years of flying the flag at half mast. Then there's the mayor, who wants some of it to start Moss World and do for their little town what that fake monster did for the Loch Ness area.

All of this puts a strain on Cody, adding to the family's financial woes and his realization that a co-worker at the diner where his wife (Watson) of 20 years is employed has been making obvious advances. The Brewers are at the bottom of the social order, as a joke told among old-timers explains: A tourist, a fisherman, and a lobsterman are having beers at an establishment when they notices flies swirling in their respective mugs. The tourist, appalled, won't drink it. The fisherman calmly picks the fly out and chugs it down. But the lobsterman? He grabs the fly by the wings and holds it over the beer and says, "C'mon, spit it out!" Lobstermen get no respect in this town, and Cody's son (Knight) is well aware of that. It's hard not to be, when the son of the rich store owner in town keeps picking on him, calling his dad a loser and making fun of his shabby clothes.

Simplicity is a hallmark of magical realism, and "A Lobster Tale" is not a complicated story. Scene after scene establishes the family's dire financial straits and each family member's personal crisis: financial, mid-life, and social. Then scene after scene drives home the point that everyone in the town wants some of the green goop, while a similar series of scenes occurs in the third act when the junk-food-eating, litter-tossing local constable investigates the sole complication in this otherwise predictable film. Thankfully, as the local lawman, Graham Greene brings some of the old "Northern Exposure" quirkiness and energy into this low-key story. In many respects, the Court Crandall screenplay is like a Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story--"The Handsomest Drowned Man" comes quickly to mind--which, in the span of only a few pages tells the story of a similar discovery, followed by the town's reaction and the resolution. And I suspect that if that story had been dramatized in film, it would look and feel just like this one. The only thing is, there really isn't enough material to warrant a 95-minute treatment. Slow-moving is one thing, but we get it, and the story could have been more economically told if 15 minutes of illustration had been lopped off. That's my main criticism of "A Lobster Tale," which otherwise is a warm and gentle film, one which, despite a PG-13 rating (for showing that old man's backside and including a few subtle verbalizations of the old guy's problem), the whole family can watch. I'm not sure there's enough action or humor to keep young family members attentive, but there are elements here that kids can identify with--like the bullying, the views that others have of their parents, the "not fair" syndrome that results when you feel like you're always told "no."

The performances are all spot-on, and first-time feature director Massey does a good job of handling tone, which is the most difficult part in a story that features a single fantastic element. Go too far one direction and you get a comedy that loses some of its relevance; go too far another and it turns into pure fantasy or sci-fi. Nailing down the magical realism is harder than it looks, and Massey pulls it off. If he had insisted on pruning the script just a little bit, "A Lobster Tale" might have had a little more magic itself.

Some confusion here. Web sites list full and widescreen options, but the box says "full frame." To complicate matters, when you pop it in and start viewing, it appears to be 1.66:1 widescreen or 1.78:1 "enhanced" for 16x9 televisions. So widescreen it is. As for the quality, this is an indie film, and there's the slight graininess throughout that we've come to expect from indie films. So many of the scenes are shot on the water near shore that the atmospheric effect is to wash out the colors as well. Town shots and interiors reinforce that it's conditions that are responsible, because there's no similar washout in those scenes.

The audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1, with only the subtlest use of rear speakers. Outdoor scenes were shot in Nova Scotia, and the sound people did a good job of eliminating white noise. Subtitles are in Spanish.

Aside from a trailer, the only bonus feature is an under seven-minute "making of" feature that grabs the director, producers, and a few of the cast on the set and gets them talking about the film and their involvement.

Bottom Line:
Because it's a little slack, which adds to the slow-moving pace, "A Lobster Tale" won't be for everyone. It would have been a stronger movie had 15 minutes been cut, but it's still an engaging story. "A Lobster Tale" has a certain charm and quirkiness that won't let you forget it.


Film Value