Fish Tank is a new film by director Andrea Arnold, whose previous film Red Road won all sorts of trinkets for being generally gritty, British and quite good. I watched Red Road with my mother-in-law and her best friend, which turned out to be an interesting evening because none of us were expecting the uncomfortably lengthy and graphic oral sex scene in the film. That particular cinema has, apparently, had to replace the seat I was in because I squirmed so much I wore the cushion down.
And so it was with mother-in-law firmly tucked away elsewhere that I watched Fish Tank. As it turned out it wasn’t nearly as pornographic as Red Road, although there was an under age sex scene in there that made me glad I was mother-in-lawless.
The film follows Mia, a 15-year-old scallywag living in an Essex tower block with her mother, who’s only about 15 years older, and her younger sister. Perpetually confused and annoyed by everything and everyone around her, Mia squeezes a droplet of pleasure out of life by dancing in an abandoned flat by herself. When Mia’s mum brings a new man into the home, Mia finds herself bewildered by her conflicting emotions towards him.
The first thing anyone who talks about Fish Tank is required by law to mention is the performance of Katie Jarvis as Mia. Jarvis, having never acted before, was spotted having a barney with her fella at a train station and subsequently plucked from obscurity to take the demanding lead role. While she’s no Dame Judi, she’s still convincing as the troubled, aggressive teen, lashing out at the world like a cat that’s been kicked too often and sympathising with a chained up horse, a wild animal condemned to die in surroundings too restrictive for it to achieve its potential.
Although Jarvis and Michael Fassbender, as the charming, roguish, potentially life-destroying boyfriend, are excellent, there’s little else to recommend Fish Tank past the first half-hour or so. It’s a brutally honest portrayal of frustrated teen life on the crappy side of the class divide, certainly, but, like its central character, the film doesn’t know what to do with itself after a while and meanders along in potentially interesting directions before, bizarrely, deciding to go to Cardiff.
So while it’s directed with atmospheric flair and pumped full of realistic misery, confusion and depression, Fish Tank is one of those films that has enough interesting characters to fill 45 minutes of quality TV drama, but doesn’t really justify a two-hour feature.
It also had, like, NO explosions, car chases, aliens or robots, so how it expects to stand alongside the rest of the year’s quality entertainment is quite beyond me.
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