Friday, February 19, 2010

Movie Review: Fish Tank

Fish Tank ****
Directed By:
Andrea Arnold.
Written By: Andrea Arnold.
Starring: Katie Jarvis (Mia), Michael Fassbender (Connor), Harry Treadaway (Kyle), Kierston Wareing (Joanne), Jason Maza (Liam), Charlotte Collins (Sophie).

Mia is 15 years old, lives in the projects and dreams of being a dancer. But Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank is anything but yet another inspiring story of a young girl who comes from nothing to make something of herself. By the end of the movie, she is just as lost as she was at the beginning – perhaps more so given everything that happens to her during the course of the film.

Katie Jarvis plays Mia in an honest, moving performance. Her seemingly one friend has abandoned her at the start to hang out with a more popular group of girl dancers. So Mia is left by herself to practice – which is does in an abandoned apartment. I am far from a dance expert, but I have watched a lot of So You Think You Can Dance, and my advice to Mia would be to get some actual training, as while she’s good, she is hardly ready for a dance career. But Mia would probably just tell me to fuck off if I suggested that to her. That’s the kind of girl she is.

Or is it? Mia puts on a tough exterior, because she pretty much has to. Her mother Joanne (Kierston Warring) is a drunk and doesn’t pay her any attention whatsoever unless there are other people around. Mia has pretty much dropped out of school and spends her days practicing her dancing, and walking around. It’s on one of these walks that she comes across a horse chained up. She tries to free the horse, but is confronted by the owners – three brothers not much older than she is. The confrontation quickly turns scary, and Mia runs away, but eventually she goes back. The one brother there, Kyle (Harry Treadaway) isn’t as macho without his brothers around. He and Mia actually hit it off.

It is around this time that Connor (Michael Fassbender) enters Mia’s life. He is another in her mother’s seemingly never ending parade of boyfriends (Mia and Sophie’s father, or fathers, are never mentioned), but unlike any other adult in Mia’s life, he takes an interest in her. He is kind and nice to her – encouraging her to make a demo to send in for an ad for female dancers that she sees. We suspect, and I bet Connor does as well, that the ad is for strippers but Mia believes this could be her break. But although Connor is nice to her, he is perhaps too nice. He looks at her a little too long and although he doesn’t cross the line (at least not at first) physically with Mia, there is certainly a flirtation between the two of them, and a physical closeness.

I couldn’t help but think of another recent movie, An Education, while watching Fish Tank. Both films detail the relationship between a young girl and an older man, and although they are set nearly 50 years apart, they hit many similar notes. Both girls are too na├»ve to see what is really going on, and allow themselves to let their guard down and be hurt. Both girls see a way out in the man, who represents what they think they want. Whereas An Education ends on a happy note, Fish Tank leaves things uncertain. Is Mia going to be okay, or not? We are not sure.

The performances in the movie are wonderful. Jarvis is perfect as a young woman who wants to be an adult, but cannot quite figure out how. She is both tough and vulnerable, and no matter what direction the screenplay takes her in, she is wonderful. She is equally good at dialogue, and those quiet scenes where he expressive eyes do the talking for her. Michael Fassbender has quickly become one of my favorite actors (this is the fourth time I’ve seen him this year after Hunger, Eden Lake and Inglorious Basterds), and this is probably his best performance to date. Outwardly friendly, there is something about his eyes we do not entirely trust. In the scene where he finally does cross a line, he plays masterfully. In a just world, both of these actors would get Oscar nominations this year.

Andrea Arnold has quietly become one of the most interesting filmmakers around. With her short film, Wasp, she won an Oscar. In her two features, Red Road and now Fish Tank, she shows an easy command of the medium and delivers movies that have a mystery to them, and still remain heartfelt. There are few movies this year that feel more touchingly real than Fish Tank.

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