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Thursday, November 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 12.0° F  Fair
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Feed the Fish: Chilling out
Shalhoub is marvelous as the prickly sheriff.
Shalhoub is marvelous as the prickly sheriff.

Consider the groin injury. On movie and television screens, trauma to the male privates is always good for an extremely cheap laugh. It's a hallmark of bad comedy.

That's why, watching the Wisconsin-themed romantic comedy Feed the Fish, I was disappointed when a character receives a particularly brutal injury to his nether parts. So disappointed I was ready to stop watching. I'm glad I didn't.

Set in frozen Door County, Feed the Fish is about the twitchy children's-book author Joe (Ross Partridge), who is fleeing a shrewish fiancée and a bad case of writer's block back in Venice Beach. At first he is repelled by the rotten weather and the villagers' folkways. But the friendly waitress Sif (Katie Aselton) catches his eye, and soon he settles into a comfortable, and productive, routine.

Writer and director Michael Matzdorff, a Green Bay native, makes some choices that are a little too easy, including that groin trauma (true, it is a distinctly Wisconsin groin trauma, and I won't reveal it). Also, the quirky small-town types are too familiar to anyone who's watched Northern Exposure. But guess what? Feed the Fish actually features a Northern Exposure cast member, and he is marvelous here: Barry Corbin as an ice-fishing poet grandfather. Marvelous, too, is another television veteran, Tony Shalhoub, of Monk fame, as the prickly Door County sheriff. The lead performances also are terrific: Partridge is droll and depressed; Aselton is radiant.

So go see Feed the Fish for the acting, and for some beautifully lyrical sequences. One involves the northern lights, another some playful canoodling at a snowbound drive-in theater. The film just screened at the Wisconsin Film Festival, where viewers must have laughed and cried at keen observations about Dairyland winters, like this one: "The really shitty part is only three months."

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