Alex is an aspiring pro swimmer and a typical young man in many ways. He puts in hard work at the pool and hangs out with friends at night, coming home to an apartment and his cat Miriam.
When his house cat turns into a human woman overnight, the two develop a relationship, even as Miriam tries to find her place and identity in the human world. But she must confront her paralyzing fear of water or risk losing her relationship altogether.
Written and directed by Melanie Easton, this charming short romance mines the whimsical premise of a cat turning into a human woman with a lightness of touch and a certain cheekiness. The winsome but insouciant tone of the fantasy strikes its balance at all levels of the storytelling, from the luminously lovely visual naturalism to the performances.
Part of the story's charm is how it takes Miriam's arrival in Alex's life with a certain matter-of-factness: it doesn't act as if Miriam's transformation is an everyday event, but it treats it with as much curiosity as a new neighbor moving in. Both Alex and Miriam accept the change in Miriam with gentle befuddlement. But having already established an easygoing companionship in their earlier carnation, they accept this new development with a certain equanimity, though life remains the same. Miriam still sleeps in the bed with Alex, as she did as a cat, and she still loves canned tuna.
With an effervescence generated by the pop music score and the nimble editing, the film tracks Miriam as she discovers certain fun aspects of human existence, like sparkly, sequin-covered clothes and, more importantly, a romance for Alex. Watching their relationship develop is a sweet, heartwarming process, like in many romance stories. But that growth is challenged as Miriam rubs up against certain feline aversions as a human. Like many cats, she's deeply fearful of water, which makes it hard for her to support Alex in his aspirations as a swimmer. She must confront that fear -- and ask herself if she's more cat or more human -- to save her relationship.
Most of "Aquaphobe" has a deft lightness of a modern fairytale, and the film seems to percolate to an equally bubbly conclusion. But in the last turn, it shifts into something more suspenseful, dynamic and even powerful, deepening the emotional register and raising the stakes. When the dust clears, it offers a moment of resigned wisdom -- a recognition that we are who we are, and no relationship can alter that, no matter how much we wish it.