Monday, 1 March 2010

Fish Tank (2009)


Don’t mess with Mia or she’ll smash up your face with her forehead and call your Dad a cunt to his face. This happens within the first five minutes and even though you don’t like the girl your alliance is formed and you’ll remain by her side through thick and thin, but it’s mostly thick, dense in fact, with sexuality, intensity, desperation and longing.

The gloomy grit and realism of Andrea Arnold’s previous debut film Red Road (2006) is repeated here only in a different location and contrasted with a bright British sunshine which makes the ambiguities of the theme and plot easy to chew and an absolute pleasure to swallow.

Katie Jarvis stars as Mia in her debut role and we watch Fish Tank from her perspective, with her pent up frustrations and her fluctuating hormones. Mia lives with her bitch mother and sister in a pokey council high rise flat. The television is constantly broadcasting unhealthy reality shows (MTV’s My Super Sweet Sixteen for example) that promote unattainable affluence and misery. It is very easy to understand Mia’s predicament her character is completely exposed and the viewer is often given brief glimpses of Mia’s point of view revealing her true sensitivity behind the nut-case façade. When Mia dances she comes to life. She’s certainly no Pussycat Doll but when she busts a move you can feel the release it gives her. It is very easy to predict the path Mia’s journey will take but that is nothing to do with the predictability of the script, because sometimes it takes you to shocking places, but true testament to Jarvis’s fine acting.

Mia’s mother Joanne (Kierston Wareing) detestable from the off, when her new boyfriend comes on the scene her true Jekyll and Hyde nature is exposed. It’s hard to understand what the charming Connor (Michael Fassbender) sees in her. Hot on the heels of his amazing performance in Hunger (2008), Fassbender plays Connor sensitively and with necessary ambiguity. He is the perfect father figure and friend and utterly endearing. He fills the parental void created by the mother and offers both of Joanne’s children hope of their affluent aspirations. Connor is uniquely objectified by the teen female gaze the moment he walks unexpectedly into the family kitchen and here is where the discomfort lies and the thrilling drama unfolds.

Director, Arnold is obviously influenced by the great gritty British auters; Clark, Loach and Leigh and occasionally skirts around some terrifying issues, gang rape, paedophilia, abduction and infanticide. Some come to fruition and some don’t but the point is that this is the dangerous world we live in and Mia is completely independent and alone in it, a stark contrast to the spoiled and overly protected teens she and her sister watch on television.

Fish Tank is a perfect follow up to Red Road and it’s a relief that Arnold hasn’t succumbed to the bright shallow lights of Hollywood and its heartless scripts and I hope she continues to emote the root of urban British life, although she clearly nods towards the grit-brit-dir’s it is easy to see how she has enabled the movement to evolve. Rather than revelling in hopelessness and celebrating their lot, Arnold dangles hope before the protagonist and all the while avoids Shameless exploitation of class and the benefit brigade. As a viewer you are left to cast your own moral judgement on the characters and their situations as Arnold is never didactic in her storytelling. The actors deliver such compelling and mesmerising performances that once the credits have run you will continue to spend weeks wondering what they’re up too. For every viewer turning their nose up at the scabby depravity of the situation on screen, there is undoubtedly a Mia trying desperately to dance her way out of it.

After 17 weeks at the UK Box office Fish Tank's total gross was £596,852
On it's opening weekend Shitfest cash-in Valentines Day grossed over £3,000,000


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