Rumble Fish ★★½

There’s something almost embarrassing about watching this, such maudlin and hackneyed feelings given such an opulently operatic treatment they hardly warrant. “You’ve got a bad habit of getting attached to people, man,” is one character’s diagnosis of sad greaser Rusty James (Matt Dillon, whose performance might most generously be described as trying too hard). The same could be said of Coppola’s film, a wild fever dream of 50s-esque signifiers filtered through layers of nostalgia and cinematic references and a teenager’s hormonally-charged emotional maximalism. Expressionist shadows blanket every wall of these teenagers’ blandly industrialized town, and thick plumes of smoke drift through the nondescript streets as if it’s some kind of apocalyptic wasteland. “Yeah, well,” says Motorcycle Boy, Rusty James’s idolized older brother, about the time of the rumbles, “you know it was fun at first. Then it got to be a bore.” Another of the film’s meta-commentaries, surely. Some Siamese fighting fish kept in the local pet store, the sole spots of vibrant color in this shimmery (and admittedly very beautiful) black-and-white world, end up providing the painfully clunky metaphor for these characters’ inchoate longings and frustrations. “What is it with those fuckin’ fish, man?” “They’d kill each other if they could.” “I don’t think they would fight if they were in the river. If they had room to live.” But then all I could think about during the final act is that Motorcycle Boy’s determination to get the fish to the river is so single-minded and all-consuming, he doesn’t even stop to wonder whether they’re freshwater or saltwater fish.