Review by Sean Boelman
Now that the world is a year into COVID-19, films about global pandemics hit very differently than their filmmakers intended before they knew the context in which they would be viewed. Chad Hartigan’s romantic drama Little Fish is a poetic and beautifully-shot movie, even if it does have some narrative inconsistencies.
The film follows a couple whose relationship is falling apart as the world is stricken with a virus that causes people to lose their memory when they’re infected. And while the beats of two people falling in love are mostly conventional, the way in which Mattson Tomlin’s script presents them is what makes it feel so fresh.
Because of the ties that the movie has with the idea of memory, the narrative structure it follows isn’t particularly straightforward, but this is also one of the film’s biggest flaws. By jumping between different time periods in a very conspicuous way, Tomlin ends up undermining some of the natural emotion that the premise offers.
The romantic aspects of the movie work really well. Although the film does attempt at a few points to dive into some of the greater implications of the concept, the movie is at its best when it is an intimate drama exploring the relationship between two people. It’s lo-fi sci-fi that needs a bit more humility.
That said, the film also could have used a bit more nuance in terms of its character development. The audience will get invested in the relationship easily, but individually, the characters feel shallow. Their motivations are all very basic, and while this does give the movie a sort of universality, it also prevents it from being as personal or resonant as it could be.
Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell are both excellent actors, and they do a great job in their roles. Cooke, in particular, is a standout, bringing a lot of nuanced emotion to her role. In the supporting cast, Raúl Castillo and Soko are great, but neither of them is given much to do apart from one or two memorable scenes.
The film also has a very interesting visual style to it. Like a lot of movies with a similar setting and tone, there is a very colorful palette, and it gives the film a very soft and warm tone. The cinematography isn’t always the most steady, and the production design isn’t always the most immersive in terms of detail, but the aesthetic is consistently strong.
Chad Hartigan’s Little Fish may not be as personal as some of his previous work, but it’s still very effective for what it is. A nice aesthetic and a surprisingly sweet story make this quite memorable.
Little Fish hits theaters and VOD on February 5.