The Brag

Film Review: Fish Tank

In Arts, Film Reviews on May 31, 2010 at 11:27 am

Film
Fish Tank
Released May 27

Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank.

Set within the same socio-economic ballpark as Harry Brown’s housing estates, Fish Tank looks like a picnic by comparison. Whereas Daniel Barber shows us the hellish underbelly of London’s infamous ‘Elephant and Castle’, rife with pitiless violence, underage prostitution and the pointy end of the drug trade, Andrea Arnold is more interested in the casual neglect that afflicts a large swathe of the UK’s youth; and Fish Tank is a far richer film in terms of character and construction.

Mia (newcomer Katie Jarvis) is fifteen, a highschool drop-out, and pops cans of lager like most kids her age pop cola. She lives in a tiny flat in a housing estate, with her booze-soaked mother Joanne (Kierston Wareing) and younger sister Tyler. In her spare time Mia sneaks off to an abandoned neighbouring high-rise and practises her dance moves – relentlessly. Her one spark of sunshine is the promise of a better life that this one talent holds forth.

As with her Oscar-winning short Wasp and her Cannes-winning debut feature Red Road (both visions of women surviving the physical and emotional minefields of life in a low-income and high-crime urban jungle), Arnold excels as a storyteller within this territory. Bolstered by Katie Jarvis’ incredibly natural performance, the director creates a heroine who is vulnerable, cheeky, tough and fragile – no mere cipher; even the film’s most potent symbol (the horse chained-up in an abandoned lot) feels natural, rather than laboured.

Fish Tank is most confronting when it explores the usually-taboo area of underage sex. When Joanne brings home Connor (Michael Fassbender – Hunger), a laid-back lover twice Mia’s age, awakening sexuality and desire for a father figure push Mia into his arms; the emotional fall-out for mother and daughter pushes the teen to make a tough decision, at a turning point in her life.

Mercifully, Arnold’s mood is optimistic; Mia is a survivor, with 150% spunk – despite a total lack of parental affirmations and institutional guidance. When she is unexpectedly put in her mother’s position, Mia manages to make better decisions. Mia’s life might be bleak, but things are definitely looking up.

4/5 Dee Jefferson

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