There’s this kid, Mica (Douglas Smith). He lives in a museum which has been created in one of the homes of a famous singer, Guillermo Garibai (Gonzalo Vega). His mother (Ariadna Gil) is the tour guide. His father (Don McKellar) left when he was younger. Mica is otherwise a pretty normal boy, except for one thing: he smells like fish. Always, except when his body is submerged in water. No amount of scrubbing with any number of soaps has helped, and neither has the car air freshener Mica ways around his neck.
This has impacted Mica in a few ways. For one, he has no friends. Actually, that’s really it. He dropped out of school because he couldn’t deal with the bullying. His mother his hit by a car in his teenage years, so he takes over the museum. He’s lonely, and passes his time by swimming. That’s about all there is to him. One day, at the pool, he meets Laura (Zoë Kravitz), and they race. Maybe she’ll be his friend. Mica also attends therapy appointments with Catherine (Carrie-Anne Moss), who acts like a mother-figure to him after his real mother dies.
The premise for The Boy Who Smells Like Fish is pretty simple. Its execution is even simpler. We follow Mica and his attempts to be friends with Laura. There is very little to do beyond that in this kid’s life, so the film doesn’t want to concern itself with anything else. Do we want to explore the psyche of Mica? Nope. Do we want to have him actively search for a cure? Nope. Do we want to do anything even remotely interesting? Nope!
We seriously do just watch this one character go about his daily business for a while, and then the film ends. The idea here is that this unusual disease — and we do eventually learn it’s a disease, spoiler alert — will be enough of a gimmick to hold our interest for 90+ minutes. It’s not. Maybe if it was funnier, or if it was being used to say something, or if Mica wasn’t just this random guy with little depth, but none of that happens. The movie thinks it’s funny enough that he smells like fish.
Maybe, possibly, it would be, but outside of the film’s opening few scenes, where people make faces when near him, the whole “he smells like fish” thing rarely comes into play. Mica starts off more reclusive than most people, but once he ventures into public, he’s not treated any differently by the majority of people he comes across. So, instead of “the boy smells like fish and it’s funny watching people react,” it becomes “this random kid does normal things and normal reaction occur.” Yawn.
This could have been used as a way to talk about shyness, reclusiveness, or a lack of self-esteem, but … it isn’t. There isn’t anything on this film’s mind. Its ambitions are not that lofty, if it has any ambitions at all. I couldn’t figure out what the point of most of it was. I believe it might at one point have started out as a comedy, but lost its way and didn’t have enough depth to its screenplay in order to compensate. Or maybe I just suck at watching movies and it actually was funny, sweet, heartfelt, whatever.
I hope, at the very least, I can mention that our lead, Douglas Smith, was terrible in the leading role. Mica is played as a younger kid by Brian Bridger, and is just as bad then, but it’s more understandable when you hire a child actor. Smith is almost 30, although he doesn’t look it, but he’s terrible here. He displays as much range as … someone who doesn’t display a lot of range. A fruit, perhaps? They’re always fun targets for analogies like these. Zoë Kravitz brings energy but no depth, Carrie-Anne Moss does nothing in a supporting role, and none of the other actors are around long enough to be worth mentioning.
The Boy Who Smells Like Fish is a film that is not worth a single moment of your time. Beyond its initial gimmick — a boy smelling like fish — it has absolutely nothing of value. And that gimmick becomes mostly irrelevant part way through the film, anyway. So it’s a comedy without any depth, with far fewer laughs than one would hope for (maybe one in the entire movie), containing poor acting, and a lack of ideas and ambition. Wonderful.