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Fish Tank (2009)

March 2, 2010

8/10 Teenage Wastelands

A wild, rough and thoughtful trip down Teen Angst Lane.

Fish Tank is about a 15-year-old girl living in the projects of Essex, England with a mean chip on her shoulder, an unemployed mom she doesn’t get along with, an expulsion notice from her school waiting on her doorstep and a passion for dancing when she’s not randomly headbutting chicks. One day, her mom starts going steady with this hunky Irishman, he gradually becomes a household staple and helps this problem child to keep things in check as she hints at the possibility of pulling her life together. But things are never that simple with teenagers, are they?

Man, really wasn’t expecting 2009 to play out as the year of teen girls with shitty home lives and worse role models. James Cameron really dropped the ball on that one.

Now, don’t be fooled by the ambiguous title and the seemingly harmless girl on the poster wearing a hoodie in a wind tunnel, this is one in-your-face movie that starts up like a blindsided knee to the groin and drags you along by the collar for the rest of the bumpy ride. Unfortunately, it eventually gets to be a little too bumpy for its own good, but life is tough when you’re eating five cent gums, not knowing where your meals are comin’ from (NAME THAT TUNE!), but everything else before and after that rough patch works very well to the point where it almost garnered a 9. 

The first half of this movie is just great. Apparently lead actress Katie Jarvis had never acted before in her life and was discovered by the casting director while arguing with her boyfriend at a train station. A crazy story worth mentioning if only because I can’t be the only one who wishes that would happen to me and also because she’s freakin’ fantastic as our guppie of the hour, Mia. She comes off as very natural as the role seems to more or less require her to be a 15-year-old girl who’s pissed off at the world, curses like it’s going out of style and is quick to push others way when they try to get close. Doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, but who cares, she does a great job and what else can you really ask for in a debut role from someone they found at a train station?

But the thing I liked most about her character is that after the first five or ten minutes of the movie where she’s raising hell and drinking forties in her bedroom, she quiets down and lets her actions do the talking. There’s a good long stretch where she doesn’t say much at all as new people are introduced into her life, displaying this silent complexity to her character that felt extremely believable and refreshingly atypical. It’s this element of restraint shown by writer/director Andrea Arnold that really stood out to me as something special that does a great job of tapping into the mindset of an angsty, rebellious kid without having her open her mouth to tell us how’s she’s feeling.

This whole vibe of trying to understand Mia is what makes up the first half of the movie and it works incredibly well, so does the dynamic between her and her mother’s boyfriend, played incredibly well by one Michael Fassbender (who is quickly turning out to be a kickass actor as well).

But then there’s the second half where things get…complicated for Mia, and that’s when it starts to derail a bit. It thankfully redeems itself at the end, but the plot towards the end of the second Act takes a questionably insano turn that quickly goes from regretfully believable to you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me, so much so that had Arnold allowed one more consecutive snafu to go down, it might have ruined the movie entirely for me. But like I said, it recovers and life goes on.

But Andrea Arnold really does do a great job of both writing up an honest script that isn’t sugarcoated in the least and directing it in such a way without still shots or tripods that totally complements the intensity of the performances from her outstanding cast. Arnold’s got a harrowing story to tell but she clearly knew exactly how she was going to tell it.

And her song choices are also out of freakin’ sight from a both lyrical and audial standpoint. 

I saw this movie the other night with three other trusty moviegoers whose opinions I all hold very, very dear to my heart, and by the time we all walked out, I quickly found myself to be the most enthusiastic of the bunch. Fish Tank is a movie that sets out to challenge you and get you talking and get you racking your brain about what the hell was going on Mia, but that’s why I liked it. Might not be for everybody and that rough patch I was talking about back there might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for some, but it’s always nice to come across an edgy take on an otherwise trite premise like this.

It’s like An Education mixed with Precious, only everyone talks like they’ve been watching Trainspotting right out the womb. Won’t need a tissue box for this one, but Fish Tank sure is intense.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2010 7:57 am

    So glad you reviewed this, very good movie, just not good enough. Check out mine

  2. March 2, 2010 6:53 pm

    Fassbender had a great year with this and Basterds.

    • March 2, 2010 7:04 pm

      Yeah, he really did. Heard he was great in Hunger, too. Should have that one watched by next week, made a lot of Top of the Decade picks from bigwig publications. Good actor though.

  3. March 3, 2010 3:02 pm

    This opens in Houston this week, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to go. Do you think it’s good enough to have the staying power of 2-3 weeks in an 8-screen theater?

    • March 3, 2010 3:04 pm

      I’d go with a two-weeker on this one, but who knows. Probably best off trying to see it asap.

  4. Branden permalink
    March 3, 2010 4:17 pm

    @Holy shit, Marshall. Follow Houstonian here. What’s up?!

    Anyway, when “the rough patch” happened as you described, Aiden, I was done with the movie. Everybody loves this movie, but I wish that rough patch was not in there.

    • March 3, 2010 4:30 pm

      Yeah, that almost lost it for me, too. If she didn’t get out of the water, this review would have been much different.

  5. March 20, 2011 4:53 am

    hell no, it’s not like precious! precious is so overrated. loved this one.


  1. Fish Tank (2009) – What the Hell Should I Watch on NETFLIX?

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