King of Herrings Dir: Eddie Jemison and Sean Richardson
Starring: Eddie Jemison, Joe Chrest, Laura Lamson, Andrea Frankle, David Jenson, Wayne Pére, John Mese, and Carl Palmer
“King of Herrings” starts in a bar with a group of friends who have known each other for too long. The typical banter and storytelling of these round table revelries ensues, escalating in emotion and culminating in a shouting match that introduces the beginning of the end for the ever-so-thin bonds holding a long friendship together. The situation sounds like the beginning verse of the blues song, the music that identifies the New Orleans streets this ragtag group of men traverse. Written and directed by Eddie Jemison and Sean Richardson, “King of Herrings” is darkly humorous and at times a richly poignant portrayal of friendship and masculinity.
Ditch (Eddie Jemison) is a one of those friends everyone knows; he is loud, egotistical, and brash, that friend that rubs everyone the wrong way. Though Ditch has found his merry men, a group of guys that seem to accept him and all his faults, his attitude has finally exhausted his friends. During a night of poker dissension is created within the group, leading to a split of allegiances between Ditch and The Professor (Joe Chrest), a seemingly self-given moniker by another friend in the group. The situation intensifies with more words cutting deeper rifts into the disagreement leading to destructive threats and unforgivable revenge ploys.
Character plays an integral and important aspect in this film and from the opening moments, the film builds an interesting quality of identifiable people. The leader with a Napoleon complex, the supportive to a fault friend, the peacemaker who keeps everyone calm, the friend who is waiting to take over, the lonely woman on the verge of self-discovery; these characters are all well rendered here. It’s a compliment to the narrative structure, which moves somewhat aimlessly, that these difficult characters remain believable amidst all the underhandedness that transpires. Though it’s easier to accomplish this when you have such a talented cast. Eddie Jemison is in the spotlight and accomplishes the task of becoming a loathsome character in the first few minutes of screen time. This continues throughout as Ditch vehemently muses on aspects of love, sex, marriage, and friendship. It’s comic yet wholly serious, a thin line that displays Jemison’s skill. Joe Chrest does a great job as The Professor, moving from an insufferable smart aleck, to a revenge-seeking degenerate, to a confused suitor; you never know what aspect of the character is genuine if any at all. The best character in the mix comes along unexpectedly in the form of Laura Lamson who plays Ditch’s wife Mary. Her character is mistreated and degraded by Ditch throughout, relinquished to an almost captive state as a lonely woman desperate for escape and the self-esteem to stand up to her husband. Lamson starts off subdued but slowly emerges as the strongest character amidst a group of men whose misguided masculinity in a way becomes their vulnerable limitation.
While the film may linger in spots, taking too much time reiterating a theme already told, it’s never boring, but in fact remains consistently stimulating. The characters are well executed and the black and white aesthetic works charmingly within the New Orleans streets. Whether about the trappings and misunderstandings found in masculinity, the emergence of feminine strength, or the complexities of relationship in different ways, “King of Herrings” explores challenging subject matter and difficult characters with a keen eye and a healthy dose of dark comedy.
4.00 out of 5.00