Little Fish

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Little Fish Movie Poster Image
Thought-provoking pandemic romance has smoking, language.
  • NR
  • 2021
  • 101 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Stands out for positive role models.

Positive Messages

Love endures. The film explores the nature and extent of love, identity, and shared experiences. Since the film shows how memory loss affects a group of young adults, it may allow teens to better understand how dementia may affect elderly loved ones. Themes include compassion, communication, and perseverance.

Positive Role Models

Emma is a dedicated, persevering caregiver, going to exhaustive lengths to help Jude retain his memories of their relationship. They both smoke and swear, but Emma and Jude also provide examples of positive gender representations. They demonstrate excellent communication skills in their relationship, including the fact that they both ask for consent when advancing their relationship, and Jude establishes considerate sexual boundaries. Emma expresses compassion in various scenarios, although she isn't always in a position to act on it. Supporting characters of color are portrayed positively.


Woman in distress after being threatened with a weapon (scene begins after the incident is over). Shoving. Dog is shown being put to sleep; depicted as gentle and painless. Cringe-inducing extreme closeup of a medical procedure. Pandemic scenes include reckless medical advice, fear-based confusion, and angry crowds demanding limited treatments.


This love story about a young married couple flashes back to how their romance developed. Both ask for consent when it comes to kissing and sex. Sensual caressing of non-sensitive body parts.


Strong language includes "a--hole," "bitch," "hell," "s--t," and many uses of "f--k." Racist slur (version of the "N" word) in song lyric playing during a party scene. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Aspirational characters smoke persistently, with no mention of consequences. Recreational drugs are a minor part of the storyline (Jude is a former user), but an anti-drug message is delivered. Attention is given to the fact that Jude chooses not to drink.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Little Fish is a romantic drama set during a pandemic involving a virus that causes Alzheimer's-like symptoms in people of all ages. The film explores the nature of love: Is it based on shared memories and experiences, or is it an emotional connection between two souls? The pandemic elements feel all too familiar, including reckless medical advice, fear-based confusion, and angry crowds demanding limited treatments. Although main characters Jude (Jack O'Connell) and Emma (Olivia Cooke) smoke cigarettes and use strong language (particularly "s--t" and "f--k"), in many ways, this is a love story that's told in a very responsible way. For instance, as their relationship develops, they both ask for consent, whether it's for a kiss or sex -- and the answer isn't always yes, on both sides. Sex is never actually depicted, though there's kissing and some sensual caressing. The main characters demonstrate strong communication skills, even when they disagree. Jude is a former drug user and the film carries a subtle anti-drug message. A close-up of a medical procedure may make viewers squeamish, but you know when it's coming, so looking away is an option. A woman is distressed after being threatened with a weapon, and a dog is shown being put to sleep (it's depicted as gentle and painless).

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What's the story?

In LITTLE FISH, Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Jude (Jack O'Connell) face a global pandemic during their first year of marriage. The mysterious virus attacks the memory capacity of those who get it. When one of couple starts to show symptoms, they work to stay ahead of the memory loss -- and keep their relationship intact.

Is it any good?

This drama rises above other "sick flick" romances: It's a beautiful, existential tale that finds new territory to mine about the nature and extent of love and identity. Who are we, if not our experiences? If we can't remember those experiences, then truly, who are we at our core? And if we don't have these shared experiences with our loved ones, that what is our relationship? While these deep philosophical questions rise, the story doesn't feel like a mental wallop, and it isn't mired in trying to make a statement. Instead, it plays like a lovely love story in what might be considered a horror film if it wasn't so close to the global pandemic experience of 2020. (For instance, when a doctor posts a DIY virus treatment on YouTube that involves penetrating the brain, viewers are more likely to think "yup, that would totally happen" than to experience shock.)

Little Fish actually began production in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic was even a glimmer in anyone's eye. The effect of the filmmakers not knowing then what we know now makes it amazingly predictive in some ways -- and in others, it distracts. For example, the virus is rampant, yet no one wears masks on the street, which may be jarring. Even more disruptive are the stacked flashbacks, which some viewers may find too confusing to follow. The ending, in particular, will likely require some discussion. But the floating memory technique is a clever, creative one for this particular story, and mostly, it works. Little Fish is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind meets The Notebook with a 2020s sensibility that will connect with today's teens.

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