Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Robert Connolly successfully delivers a story which has enough nuance to keep adults from getting bored whilst remaining accessible to younger viewers." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

When it comes to films about children bonding with animals, fish don’t generally get much of a look-in. There’s an assumption that they’re too limited in intelligence for any real connection to form, but that notion is quickly dismissed in this conservation-focused tale from Robert Connolly. As its heroine Abby (Ariel Donaghue/Ilsa Fogg) learns, the blue grouper who lives near her childhood home can live to around the same age as a human, and its territoriality means that they have a mutual relationship to the reef upon which to build the rest.

The reef, however, is under threat – like many of those still surviving around Australia’s coast. We learn all this in retrospect from the adult Abby (Mia Wasikowska), an ecologist who is working in different waters when she gets a call informing her that her mother Dora (Elizabeth Alexander) has had a stroke. When she returns to her home to help, the two women reconnect by recollecting the past (in which Dora is played by Radha Mitchell) and how Abby learned to love the ocean due to the joint tutelage of Dora and the titular fish.

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The central formula is tried and tested, but what cynical adults forget is that each generation of children is discovering it for the first time. At a stage in life when friendship is more important than anything and new wonders wait around every corner, it’s a powerful draw. The usual complaint applies: there isn’t as much animal action as young viewers will be hoping for. This isn’t as much of a problem as usual, however, because there’s a good deal of beautiful underwater photography, and because the humans in the film are actually worth watching.

Aided by his accomplished cast, director Robert Connolly successfully delivers a story which has enough nuance to keep adults from getting bored whilst remaining accessible to younger viewers. There’s an underlying ecological message brought into focus by the threat to the reef from developers, and some positive encouragement for people who are keen to wield some influence politically despite being too young to vote. A sweeping, string-heavy score invites big emotion and complements the overall experience well, even if it can’t quite atone for the mutilation of The Ship Song at the end.

Alongside the animal-focused narrative, there’s some good material here for helping children understand what it means when somebody has a stroke or experiences another form of brain damage. It’s a modest but solid little story with plenty for kids to relate to, and it properly captures the thrill of diving, inviting those who have the opportunity to expand their worlds well beyond the screen.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2023
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The story of a child who befriends a magnificent wild blue grouper while diving. When she realises that the fish is under threat, she takes inspiration from her activist mother, and takes on poachers to save her friend.
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Director: Robert Connolly

Writer: Robert Connolly

Starring: Radha Mitchell, Eric Bana, Mia Wasikowska, Ariel Donoghue

Year: 2022

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: Australia

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