‘Little Fish’ Review: An Engaging, Timely, and Memorable Romantic Tale

Little Fish Olivia Cooke Jack O'Connell
Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell star in ‘Little Fish’ (Photo Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release)

Director Chad Hartigan’s Little Fish is a touching romantic tale of love and loss, of the fluidity of life and the desire to form lasting connections during our time on this planet. The heart-wrenching drama asks us to consider what happens when the threads that hold our relationships together are ripped apart by a devastating disease.

In the case of Little Fish, the fictional disease spreading around the globe is Neuroinflammatory Affliction (NIA). NIA steals memories and destroys lives. Some of those afflicted lose touch with their past rapidly while for others it’s a slow spiral into a world where nothing feels safe or familiar.

For newlyweds Emma (Olivia Cooke, Bates Motel) and Jude (Jack O’Connell, Godless) NIA advances slowly. It begins with little things…the inability to remember the name of someone they’ve dealt with occasionally at work or the forgetting of details of a conversation they recently engaged in. This slow march allows both Emma and Jude an opportunity to understand what the future holds or at least comprehend where they’re headed during the disease’s early stages.

Emma and Jude face their fate as a team. A potential cure allows the couple to hope for a continued life of shared memories, but what really drives this couple to wake up each morning is love. Emma remains undaunted as Jude’s lapses in memory increase, and Hartigan uses flashbacks to fill in blanks and flesh out their relationship.

The pandemic strikes globally yet Little Fish is a very intimate story focused on a couple who are both flawed and relatable. Watching Emma and Jude struggle and suffer through the stages of NIA is heartbreaking because we know them and they could be us.

The fact the world is currently in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic makes the film feel all the more relevant and intense. However, NIA is nothing like Covid-19; it’s very similar to Alzheimer’s. Whether the disease comes on fast or rolls out slowly, it progresses until you’re no longer able to recognize the faces of loved ones or call up memories of important events. You lose contact with what makes you a complete person, cut off from everyone and left feeling isolated and alone. Every day brings new frustrations; every face is that of a stranger.

It’s difficult to capture the impact of memory loss yet Chad Hartigan’s done an outstanding job setting up realistic scenarios. As the couple at the heart of the film, Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell deliver extraordinary performances. Cooke and O’Connell make us invest in this imperfect couple and as they lose themselves to NIA, their journey pulls at our heartstrings.


Screenplay By: Mattson Tomlin

Release Date: February 5, 2021 (streaming and in theaters)

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

Studio: IFC Films

Supporting Cast: Soko, Raul Castillo, David Lennon, and Carmen Moore