Fish Tank (2009) dir. Andrea Arnold
Starring: Kate Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Griffiths
By Alan Bacchus
Mia (Kate Jarvis) is a typical British 15-year-old, full of anger for no apparent reason other than the constant feeling of working class squalor engulfing her wherever she goes. Her family life is a precarious pile of Jenga blocks, her single mother parties like she's her daughter's age and takes no responsibility for either her or Mia's eight-year-old sister, and the trio constantly bicker, dropping harsh English f-bombs as their primary form of greeting.
Mia, thus, has become her own rebel without a cause. Her only outlet is her desire to dance in a hip-hop dance crew, and though she'd dedicated to practice, she's just no good. When mother brings her new boyfriend, Connor, into the house, Mia develops a deep carnal schoolgirl crush on him. His masculine charm is infectious and gradually a coy game of flirtation snowballs into a something highly inappropriate.
Fish Tank plays like a British kitchen sink version of 'An Education': the intoxication of a young girl's puppy love for an older man, and the subsequent betrayal of that love and trust.
Director Andrea Arnold is absolutely clear that Mia's town is the armpit of British suburban life. Such material could easily have been the stuff of "slit your wrists" too if it were not for Arnold's ability to put us in the shoes of young Mia and into the fascinating rollercoaster ride of teenaged emotions.
Arnold lasers right in on Mia, the camera never ever leaving her sight. She follows her through the streets, stores, tenement buildings and Home Depots, much like how the Dardenne brothers track their characters. But since we're completely within Mia's point of view, Arnold only needs to hide from us what doesn't Mia know.
The first act, a series of confrontations between Mia and her mom, her sister, her enemies and her friends sets up a welcomed tonal shift to the pleasures of having a nearly complete family unit. When the hunky Michael Fassbender, playing Connor, enters the picture, suddenly the skies clear and we as the audience get caught up on Mia's love struck haze. But what's the catch?
Like 'An Education', Arnold admirably hides Connor's earth-shattering deception from both Mia and the audience. And after a thunderous one-two punch of dramatic beats, Mia gets a quick lesson in the untrustworthiness of man.
The emotion is not lost on us either. Where Carey Mulligan's character passively accepts her lover's infidelity, Mia fights back with an agonizingly suspenseful act of revenge.