With a pandemic now a universally shared experience, it’s relatively easy for a film like LITTLE FISH (2021) to resonate so effectively with today’s audiences, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a really good movie. It is.
LITTLE FISH is the story of two twenty-somethings Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Jude (Jack O’Connell) who meet, fall in love, and get married, but unfortunately for them, it’s at this same time that a deadly disease breaks out across the world, one that robs people of their memories until they eventually forget everything. When Jude begins showing symptoms, Emma rallies to save her husband, but as they find out, it’s seemingly a losing battle.
The “little fish” in the title refers to identical tattoos Emma and Jude have on the their ankles, a symbol of their relationship, since when Jude proposed, he didn’t have a ring, and so Emma said “buy me a fish.” So, they bought a goldfish, and later memorialized the moment with the tattoos.
LITTLE FISH resonates both with its pandemic angle and its memory loss disease, which mirrors Alzheimer’s, except in the movie, the disease affects people of all ages. Sometimes it happens over time, but for others, the memory loss is much quicker, sometimes instantaneous.
LITTLE FISH tell a somber love story. It has a sharp screenplay by Mattson Tomlin, based on a short story by Aja Gabel, that creates two realistic characters, thrusts them into a believable tragic situation, and then leads the audience on a journey of hope that in their guts they know is a long shot at best. The dialogue is also on target. Tomlin also wrote the screenplay to the recent Netflix sci-fi actioner PROJECT POWER (2020) about a pill that gives humans super powers and starred Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I liked LITTE FISH much more than PROJECT POWER.
The two main characters Emma and Jude are expertly acted by Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell. In fact, I was first interested in this movie because I enjoy Cooke as an actor and wanted to see her latest project. Cooke was a regular on the above average TV show BATES MOTEL (2013-17), also playing a character named Emma, and she was also memorable in a pair of horror movies, Hammer Films’ THE QUIET ONES (2014) and OUIJA (2014).
As expected, Cooke is outstanding here as Emma. She and Jack O’Connell get most of the screen time, and so it’s important that they have some chemistry, and they do. They genuinely seem like a couple in love and theirs is a moving love story. As things continue to grow worse, things become more painful, because you just don’t want to see these things happen to them.
And there are a lot of painful things. They sign up for a controversial cure which Jude learns is not a medicine but a surgery where a needle is stuck directly into the brain. This changes Jude’s mind about taking part in this trial run, but later when his symptoms get worse, he changes his mind only to find out he’s now been rejected for surgery. Instead, using a video posted online by a doctor, they debate whether to try the procedure at home.
They also witness their best friends Ben and Samantha going through the same ordeal, and in that relationship, things come to a head when Ben doesn’t recognize Samantha and attacks her with a butcher’s knife, mistaking her for an intruder.
And later, when Emma begins exhibiting symptoms herself, the situation grows almost unbearable.
Even though this one is a slow burn, director Chad Hartigan keeps it compelling enough throughout. I never lost interest.
There are a lot of memorable moments. Jude takes to keeping photos of Emma handy with her name on the back so he knows who she is. When he leaves home he needs his address written down so he doesn’t get lost. Memory tattoos become a thing, as people take to having relevant information tattooed on their bodies.
The film is also neatly framed from beginning to end, with opening shots and closing shots that bring the story full circle.
LITTLE FISH impressed me throughout. It’s definitely worth your time. But you will want the tissues handy.
It’s somewhat of a tearjerker, and I suspect tears will flow, enough perhaps to fill a fish bowl.
This one may be too timely for its own good… but I confess I have several tear-jerkers I store for the purpose of “controlled descent” of grief… Perhaps it’s time to add to the collection…