Fish Tank Reviews
There wasn't a moment during Fish Tank when I didn't think that the camera was following a real person in a troubled life. With the handheld follow shots and the extended takes of Mia walking the streets, the film is shot in a style that is meant to be "real" but isn't; what created the realistic feel were the performances by the leads, especially newcomer Katie Jarvis and Michael Fassbender. As a character, Mia walks a dangerous line of being remarkably unlikable, and I wouldn't blame many viewers if she crossed that line for them, but for me, Jarvis's performance and the script was able to keep me interested in Mia and keep me hoping for her, which was a challenging task. Mia is written so that everything she does is both senseless and logical (but only within her own emotional and intellectual framework); she's both impetuous and meticulous. Contradictions like these make the character interesting even as her actions make her detestable.
The story is pretty predictable, but I don't think we go into films like these for the plot twists.
Overall, Fish Tank is one of the better adolescent character studies I've seen in a while, and Katie Jarvis could be a promising talent.
Ostracised by her friends and excluded from school, Mia (Katie Jarvis) is a lairy teenager living in a high-rise block with her mother and younger sister. One day her mum brings home a charismatic stranger (Michael Fassbender) who shows genuine care for the girl but may also care in ways that will add to already hothouse living conditions.
Directors Mike Leigh and Ken Loach are no stranger to exploring dysfunctional families in working class drama's, but now there are several quality directors appearing with voices (and eyes) of their own. Shane Meadows, Peter Mullan and Lynne Ramsey are a few and now Andrea Arnold can count herself as one. This is a simmering drama full of anger, frustration, sexual tension and desire. Katie Jarvis (in her film debut) as the testy teenager, who can't quite contain her emotions, is marvellous in the lead role. Aided by an enigmatic Fassbender. The chemistry between them is key to the whole film working and they both deliver excellent performances. Jarvis has yet to come into her own with further work but it's easy to see why Fassbender is now in high demand. Full of suggestion and supression, this is an intense sexually charged film that director Arnold handles deftly.
As British 'kitchen-sink' drama's go, this can proudly include itself among the finest and Andrea Arnold is without doubt a director for the watching. Powerful stuff.
Where was the best actress nomination for Katie Jarvis?
Or the original screenplay nod to Andrea Arnold, whose writing is as good as her directing. She tells the story of an angst-ridden teen, living in the worst of conditions in an England slum, but she does it through observation. The scene is the scene and viewers may interpret it in different ways.
The characters are heavily flawed, but are also good people. You can sympathize with them, hate them, love them, wish that you could help them, or wish ill on them. Movies like this require an active audience, one that won't be told by a film how to feel. But you will feel something while watching this movie. The story is powerful and completely gripping, a far better film than almost every best picture nominee at the 2011 Oscars.
While it may not always be the case with other films, Fish Tank is a very good reason why the best films you'll ever see are the ones floating under everyone's radar, because these are the films made with a voice, not a studio marketing team.
It reminded me in some ways of Winter's Bone. Both are about young women growing up in less than the ideal circumstances, with no father around. They're both unflinching in their portrayals of bleak realities, and they both feature excellent performances from the young actresses at the center of the story. Like Jennifer Lawrence, Katie Jarvis is an actress to keep an eye on. The character of Mia could have been easy to dislike or pity, but Katie plays her in a way that let's us keep both her flaws and her good qualities in perspective at all times. It's impressive to watch.
The story starts off simply enough, as we're introduced to Mia, an angry, lonely 15 year old living in council housing in Essex. She loves hip-hop dancing, has a selfish, immature mother, and a younger sister who's clearly being shaped by her environment and parental indifference in the same manner that Mia was. Mia's mother brings home a new man (Michael Fassbender, in another of what's become a string of great roles that have made me a fan), who seems to be a positive influence on the entire family.
That's all the plot synopsis you're getting from me. Some might consider the story depressing, but I found it ultimately (and genuinely) hopeful. It doesn't go in completely unexpected directions, but it's believably honest.
Fish Tank is a prime example of why I love movies. It's more than the sum of its parts. It's an experience that takes me out of my own life for a few hours, and gives me a piece of someone else's. That's a powerful thing.
'Fish Tank' is much more focused on real-life modern day Britain, as 15 year-old Mia Willams (brilliantly played by newcomer Katie Jarvis) fights a losing battle against life. Mia hates her family, her fellow teenagers and her environment and is in turn hated. She is alienated, disillusioned and angry at life. When asked by her mother's boyfriend Connor what her favourite animal is, she quickly replies 'a white tiger' - an animal which, when caged, perfectly captures the repression and frustration that overwhelms Mia every day.
Desperate for an escape, she ultimately falls for Connor, the only adult who treats her with any degree of respect, and begins trying to claw her way out of her current lifestyle, the ending of the film seemingly positive but essentially ambiguous about whether the grass is ever greener. Like 'Kes' with a female protagonist, Fish Tank is one of the most powerful films that I have ever seen. The interaction between characters is at once convincing and the plot a million miles away from typical Hollywood cliché.
A coming of age story - not really; more of a coming to terms story. Coming to terms with her situation and the limited opportunities offered to a lower class Brit female. She dreams of escaping her alcoholic non caring mother by becoming a successful dancer; practicing in the privacy of a vacant apartment in the shoddily built government high rise she grew up in, while others with the same idea are flaunting their moves in front of the local boys. When she lashes out at them you wonder why, but it all comes full circle later; Mia instinctively understands the difference between dancing for art and dancing for money, as evidenced when she walks off stage before beginning her dance at a strip club audition.
The audition scene is the nexus point of her life. Mia realizes that her dream is simply that; only a dream, so she lowers her sights and settles for plan B - heading off to Wales with a 19 year old mechanic who has expressed an interest in her.
Along the way there is a wonderfully told story of Mia's attraction to one of her mother's beaus, who for a time shares the apartment with Mia's family. What takes place is given time to percolate, thanks to the excellent direction of Andrea Arnold, and the acting chops of Kate Jarvis as Mia, and Michael Fassbender as the boyfriend.
The film's editing could have been enhanced by some better fades, but overall the cinematography on display here is excellent - very up close and intimate when in the apartment, and seemingly distant and detached when outside - giving the viewer a vested interest in the story while sneaking in subliminal feelings of hopelessness. There are several very nice touches; from the almost continual gray skies around the apartment complex to the idyllic blue skies with white puffy clouds that frame the shots of a suburban enclave. A wonderful shot as Mia leaves the strip club audition, having the camera follow her past a multi mirrored wall reflecting back multiply images of her.
The final shots are also noteworthy. Mia looking back over her shoulder as the mechanic drives her away from the apartment building, her younger sister running after them and waving (symbolic of the younger sister also being trapped in the same predicament), and then a cut to the apartment building as a heart-shaped balloon rises above it.
Overall the film is less than perfect, as I felt that the early pacing was a bit slow, especially some of the solitary dancing scenes, but the film certainly held its commitment to its bleak vision and the twisted tale of Mia and her mom's boyfriend were so artfully executed and revealing in so many ways, that I must agree with the Cannes Jury.