Ella and Harriet are on a first date. Harriet is enthusiastic, if a bit much, but Ella is aloof and rude. After repeatedly turning down Harriet’s attempts at connecting, Ella finally reveals the source of her umbrage: Harriet lied about what she looked like.
Absurdist to the extreme, Jay Mansell’s Fish is precisely what you want in a short that depicts the utter despair that is dating. As we sit and watch the increasingly frustrated Elle (Boo Jackson), listen to Harriet ( ) talk about things like her degree that got her nowhere near a step on a career ladder, so she has turned to a rather unexpected job. We become more annoyed with her, Elle’s attitude is abysmal, and it is a wonder how Harriet is putting up with it at all.
Then we get that reveal, which is just terrific. Not satisfied with just that one loud laugh-out-loud reveal, Writer-Director Jay Mansell has many more up his sleeve, revealing that it is not just Harriet who was hiding something from her date. It could have been simple to go off that one premise for the entirety of the short (indeed, there would be enough jokes there to do so). But Mansell has other ideas and is as resolute as a writer can be to keep his audience on their toes.
With our characters positioned off-centre, continually throughout Fish, you are already unsure of what to expect and cautious with how assured you know where the story is leading to. Nothing is really done to be conventional here, and it works a treat by being so… Off. Purposefully we are kept waiting for some kind of revelation as the static camera fixates on Jackson’s Elle. Then just when your patience (like hers with the date) begins to waiver, the absurd element comes to the fore and never bothers trying to leave for the rest of the short.
If you have been stuck in the dating scene for a while, you will have met (in some form) an Elle and a Harriet at one point in your life. A person who hides what they look like as that will never get the chance to make an impression. With the other, who is just so riddled with what they think they want that they refuse to give someone who doesn’t match all of their long-listed criteria a chance.
Both Jackson and Tarrington do great work in their roles, with Jackson working the facial expressions to the limit, while Tarrington is forced to use her vocal work to get her character across. Despite the absurd concept of Fish, it still becomes the perfect analogy for trying to date someone in a world where no one is who they really seem.
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