I’m not sure when Aja Gabel wrote the story that became Little Fish, but I don’t think it was during the pandemic that has seized the world. In the near-future depicted here it’s a different kind of malady that overtakes society: a disorder called Neuroinflammatory Affliction, or NIA. It causes people to lose their memory—sometimes all at once, sometimes in stages.
In the midst of this unfathomable blight two people meet and fall in love. Their challenge is to maintain that relationship as long as they can, after he shows the first, heartbreaking signs of memory loss.
The film rises or sinks on the empathy we feel for those lovers, who couldn’t be more perfectly cast. Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell are both likable and believable. I cared about their relationship and their struggle. Incidentally, they’re both from Northern England but he plays an American, flawlessly.
Director Chad Hartigan and screenwriter Mattson Tomlin made wise decisions about focusing on one couple and their closest friends, played by Soko and Raúl Castillo. Scenes of people being herded into a facility for clinical testing are genuinely creepy given what we’re all experiencing right now. The film almost lost me but recovered by focusing on the intimate story of one couple. That’s what makes Little Fish palatable—and moving.