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‘Little Fish’ review: Sci-fi romance is well crafted and emotionally exhausting

Little Fish visits an aspect of science fiction that is rarely talked about. For all the futuristic imagery and stories of alternate timelines, romance is a very important part of the genre. This drama is about a couple that are trying to keep their relationship together through a virus. The issue is it erases memories, including their history with each other.

The premise is set up to emotionally manipulate its audience. Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Jude (Jack O’Connell) are very much in love with each other. The fact that Emma seems untouched by the virus only makes things more difficult to watch. Little Fish is emotionally exhausting, but this is due to its characterizations and storytelling.

Sometimes, things can be a little too convenient. For example, Emma is a writer and Jude is a photographer. This allows them to leave reminders for themselves al la Memento. It works here thanks to how well director Chad Hartigan puts Little Fish together. Though some of the moments when the virus hits are shocking, the film’s world is one where people are attempting to live with the disease instead of curing it.

Since Little Fish plays out as a romance, it relies heavily on its two leads. Both are required to play a range of sometimes conflicting emotions. Emma must watch as the man she loves fades away in front of her. O’Connell plays the role of a person who is frustrated by the virus overtaking while also being completely unaware of what is going on. 

The film fills in the backstory of the couple in nonlinear fashion. This is where things become devastating. It is during the normalcy of Little Fish that we see the love between Emma and Jude. They work hard to keep their love together in the present, but it adds another layer to see the two together before the memory loss begins to take over.

'Little Fish' review: Sci-fi romance is well crafted and emotionally exhausting

Though the movie is more of a human drama than a visual spectacle, Little Fish uses light and color to add the sci-fi quality to the story. Flashbacks are given a blurry look at times. The movie has an almost dreamlike quality to it that is expected of this type of movie. Keegan DeWitt’s score adds to setting and meaning of the film.

The movie’s biggest misstep comes from what was probably intended to be a meaningful line. “When your disaster is everyone’s disaster, how do you grieve?” Little Fish asks. The answer is simple. You grieve as you always should. Loss and sadness is not a competition. There are no levels involved and though everyone experiences different forms of it, no one should diminish their own. It is a glaring oversight in an otherwise clever film.

Little Fish will be available in theaters and on demand February 5

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