Fish Tank (2009)

March 16, 2011 By Mike B
Movie Review

What Worked?

Many mainstream coming-of-age teen flicks usually give audiences a glossy version of teen life. For most, the loneliest parts of life are the beginning and the end. The teenage years can be a numbing phase of alienation. Fish Tank gives us a fascinatingly real walk through the life of a lonely teenage girl trying to do what all teenagers try to do: find themselves. The story centers around the scrappy, foul-mouthed, 15 year old Mia who has dreams of being a hip-hop dancer, but is trapped in the London projects. Director and screenwriter, Andrea Arnold, delivers a honest reflection about the life of a teen trapped in a situation where she has no room to grow, and faces the hardships of life at a fragile age.

Arnold takes on a voyeuristic eye, which makes the film feel intimate and grippingly real, planting the film in a true setting. Many times the camera is following Mia, taking in her point of view in almost every frame. There’s also no soundtrack, besides the diegetic sounds coming from Mia’s CD player, adding to the realism. Arnold truly makes the audience feel like they are inserted as ghosts observing the life of a troubled teenage girl in Essex. Even though there’s a realistic feel throughout, Arnold does sparingly use stylistic editing to open up the mindset of Mia even more; for example, Arnold will isolate the sound of breathing to heighten the sexual tension.

The performances in Fish Tank are all amazing and are executed in a very natural manner. Katie Jarvis, in the starring role as Mia, is a perfect mix of attitude, anger and angst. Jarvis, in her first acting gig ever, does a wonderful job, especially for a girl that has never acted before this film. Jarvis was picked to be in the cast after being noticed at a train station, fighting her boyfriend and giving him “grief.” She brings a sense of genuine soul to the role, and comes off as a true person, not a character. Basically, the casting agents took a shot in the dark and hit a bulls-eye. Michael Fassbender does a wonderful job as Connor, who is Mia’s mother’s new boyfriend. Fassbender comes off naturally charming and kind, but holds some rotting skeletons in his closet that are eager to break out. Both actors interact with each other authentically, as viewers can feel the awkwardness, sexual tension or genuine happiness between the two, even in silence.

The extent of Mia’s life are the glass walls of a fish tank, the London projects, as she is trapped in a piss-poor life, unloved, and unseen. She refuses to integrate with the people around her, living in her own compressed, defensive bubble made up of “fuck yous” and headbutts. The film takes up the heavy material of the disappearance, or perhaps absence, of childhood innocence, and how life is a bitch that never backs down, from the perspective of a rebellious teenager. Her mother is barely a parent, and her little sisters are already smoking and drinking along with her. Constantly, Mia is trying to break out of her situation; however, everything that seems like a light at the end of a tunnel is a train ready to trample her once more, but she keeps going anyway just in case the next one is real. A song played in the film, “Life’s a Bitch ( and then you die)” by Nas, is very fitting and the film agrees with it. Life’s too big of a bitch to chain down, but trying is the victory.

Potential Drawbacks:

Some viewers may be offended seeing children drinking and smoking, and seeing a 15 year old main character doing “adult” activities. The film is not the typical clean teen drama, but it sacrifices that universal accessibility for realism. Those who hate teen dramas or are easily offended by what teens are exposed to probably shouldn’t watch this film, as it doesn’t try to dilute any of it’s material.

Film Recommendations:

Rumble Fish
An Education

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