Directed by Andrea Arnold
Like a chav Precious, 15-year-old Mia (Katie Jarvis) dreams of a better life as a rap video dancer, when not swapping cusses with her single mother in their ill-maintained public housing. But writer-director Andrea Arnold at least underpins her frequent brand-X symbolism—Mia will also caress a chained animal, in slo-mo—with a handcrafted feel for environment. Not especially for the Essex milieu, despite Fish Tank’s handheld camera and scattered empties (British “kitchen-sink” realism has, like Carveresque Kmart realism, become an influential aesthetic partly because it’s so easily mimicked), but certainly for the way her characters’ psychology and behavior is shaped by their frame of reference.
Like An Education, Fish Tank is interested in how a girl’s hunger for experience can be the source of her vulnerability, here explored through a more drawn-out, stuttering two-way seduction, but with a similar dependency on revelations that are, by the nature of the story, only revelatory to the brazenly naïve. Mia’s precocious mistake is her mom’s too-good-to-be-true new beau, Conor (Michael Fassbender), who drives the whole indoorsy family out to the country, and plays them music from outside their microcosm. The increasingly tense moments between the two are based in mother-daughter competitiveness and the calloused but unworldly Mia’s media-mishmash of fairytale and sexual fantasies; while local girl Jarvis’s sharp performance has a whiff of the directed to it, Fassbender alternates with with beautiful uncertainty between paternal and flirtatious, and between a responsibly “roguish” front and a fuck-up’s dropped-everything self-loathing. It’s enough to make one wish that the screws this story turns weren’t already stripped from overuse.
Opens January 15