MULTIPLE PERSONALITIES Danner and Damkoehler.
The Ocean State is a character as colorful as any of the ragtag denizens of Side by Each, a film getting its world premiere on the closing weekend of the 12th Annual Rhode Island In-ternational Film Festival (through August 10).
Starring Blythe Danner and Larry Bryggman and featuring many local actors, including a half-dozen from Trinity Repertory Company, the comedy was written and directed by Rich Allen, who for many years has lived and sailed in the state.
Allen, a licensed yacht captain as well as long-time award-winning short film maker, chose for his first feature film a setting and state of mind he apparently knows quite well.
“I must launch — I must launch,” Saul T. “Salty” Waters (Bryggman) declares to the wind he is leaning into, feet dug into the shoreline sand, in the opening moments.
It’s that obsessive intensity rather than any eventual voyage that’s the journey we follow with him. If a fish out of water is a stock Hollywood comedy premise with promise, then a captain out of water is one with an ironclad contract.
Salty has a sailboat, but it’s in dry dock and looks like it’ll be there forever after it’s bulldozed over by mob guys who want to use the boatyard as a way station for dumping toxic waste into the ocean. Salty is also interested in this as a part-time photographer for the local paper, on the lookout for exposés, though his first involvement is as the guy hired to drive the suspicious barrels up from New Jersey.
The gangsters aren’t Italian, for a change, but rather an equal opportunity combination of a gun-toting Portuguese-American — Pepe “Go Easy” Gouise (Lewis D. Wheeler) — and his Franco-American sidekick — Claude (Paul P. Price). (A sight gag in French-Canadian-occupied Woonsocket explains the film’s title with a sign instructing drivers to parallel park “Side by Each.”)
The payoff for this movie isn’t so much its storyline, which halts at the beginnings of unexplored trails like an easily distracted Boy Scout, but rather its cutesy eccentrics and their entertaining goings-on.
Among the Trinity supporting players, Anne Scurria gets to conduct what the police call a “hold-in” when her character arrives to open up her diner and finds it already filled with customers. (Salty had broken in to sleep and started serving customers.) She whips a rifle out of her trunk and tells everybody they’re all under arrest. Her cook, played by Richard Donelly, gets to insert the local expression “not for nothing.”
There are other Trinity moonlighters. As a copiously sideburned tugboat captain willing to dump PCB-oozing barrels into the ocean, William Damkoehler enjoys broadening a New England accent to its breaking point. Bob Colonna is an annoyed boatyard owner and, in the cleverest characterization of the film, Timothy Crowe is a boat mechanic who uses two pairs of reading glasses, presumably because that’s cheaper than buying a stronger pair.
A more widely recognized actor, Paul Benedict, plays a pigtailed Native American police chief of dubious competence. In a spot-on sight gag, he does a toy soldiers-fighting bit with two of those souvenir white-bearded fishing captain carvings you see around.
Quietly interesting additional characters are Bristol and Newport, whose streets and watersides provide plenty of cobblestone walks and wheeling gulls.