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FISH TANK (director/writer: Andrea Arnold; cinematographer: Robbie Ryan; editor: Nicolas Chaudeurge; cast: Katie Jarvis (Mia), Michael Fassbender (Connor), Kierston Wareing (Joanne), Rebecca Griffiths (Tyler), Harry Treadaway (Billy); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Kees Kasander/Nick Laws; IFC Films; 2009)
“The realism gets cramped with pat contrivances.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Brit filmmaker Andrea Arnold (“Red Road”/”Wasp”/”Milk”) directs this dreary, gritty coming-of-age drama about an angry social misfit 15-year-old named Mia (Katie Jarvis), wandering around in the summer under no adult supervision. The sullen Mia lives in a grimy working-class housing project in Essex, England (just outside London), with her crude, promiscuous, party-girlsingle parent mum (Kierston Wareing) and bratty foul-mouthed younger Sis (Rebecca Griffiths), and is in a constant shouting war with them as well as angry with her bleak surroundings.Mum’s new stud hardware store worker younger boyfriend Connor (Michael Fassbender) takes both a paternal and lascivious interest in the volatile Mia, while having a good time with the thirtysomething Mum. Connor’s motives of helping Mia always leaves us with an uneasy feeling, as we’re never sure what are his intentions. This awkward testy relationship between the restless teen and the mysterious older man propels the kitchen-sink melodrama, and a heavy-handed metaphorical subplot is tacked on that has Mia repeatedly trying to rescue a white horse tied up in a nearby junkyard (in case you don’t get it, both feel tethered to this junky place). It is there while trying to free the horse she meets and is befriended by the young adult caravan dwelling Billy (Harry Treadaway), as a romance with him is suggested but that never gets off the ground. The loner Mia’s only creative outlet is doing a hip-hop improv dance routine to video tapes in which she practices in an abandoned apartment every day and dreams that this dance routine will be the vehicle one day that will change her miserable life.We’re left in Ken Loach social consciousturf wondering what will become of this unfortunate and not that likable feisty ‘at risk’ gal, who rarely smiles and seems doomed to live a life of misery.

The story drags at a leisurely pace and builds on a possible illicit sexual relationship, whereby the realism gets cramped with pat contrivances. But the performance by the unknown nonprofessional Jarvis, in her film debut, is striking and it’s the overall quality of the acting that gives the tale its uplift–even keeping things gripping, though never enlightening or heart-warming.

The title is inspired by these working-class dregs seemingly trapped in a fish tank, living a dead-end existence.

Fish Tank won the Jury Prize at Cannes, as did Arnold’s Red Road in 2006.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”