Spencer is in the midst of a crisis: he needs to come out to his long-term girlfriend, but he just can’t pluck up the courage to have the talk with her.
But then Spencer gets a boost of support from an unexpected source, just as he’s at his lowest point: a talking salmon named Sammy.
Sammy is an articulate fish who helps Spencer navigate all his difficult conversations, though his lack of knowledge about human beings — and an emerging lack of tact — add a wrinkle to the process. But with his help, Spencer gains a sense of self-confidence and uses his true voice to finally move his love life along.
Writer-director Jake Shannon’s witty comedy is a coming-out story that handles an important pivot in a young man’s life with a fresh, quirky lightness of touch and plenty of comic twists that nevertheless stay true to the film’s emotional journey.
The storytelling is handled with a deft, brisk rhythm that emphasizes the playfulness of the writing. The conceit of a talking fish in “Sammy the Salmon” is both metaphorical and comical, and the cleverness of the dialogue exploits the fish’s unfamiliarity with people to highlight some of the absurdities and peccadilloes of human behavior.
There’s also a nice arc in the visual approach as well, with a beautifully bleak opening scene by the sea that finds Spencer in despair, to a more glossily-appointed, cosmopolitan ending one that could easily nestle into a polished, urbane romantic comedy.
The narrative is grounded in the emotional truth of the character’s dilemma: Spencer is so anxious and fearful of telling the truth about himself and upending his life. But while actor Liam Maguire’s performance beautifully stays true to these emotions — and he plays off well from the talking fish — he delivers with suppleness and subtlety, adapting to the jaunty, ultimately ironic rhythms of the dialogue.
But perhaps the genius of “Sammy the Salmon” is how the talking fish emerges as a remarkably full character in many ways, with a decided point-of-view, flaws, personal history and sense of humor. As a metaphor, he works well as part of Spencer’s inner landscape come to life; as a character, he’s witty, clever, well-meaning, rumbling, naughty and so much more. Which makes the ending all the more funny and bittersweet at once, though it underscores that that once we give voice to the truths we’ve hidden, it sets us free — and perhaps frees us from the crutches we’ve leaned on to get there in the first place.