Friday, March 11, 2011

Fish Tank

What should have been a throwaway story about a bratty 15 year-old with a crappy life ended up being quite the opposite. Because, let's face it, 15 year-old girls suck, and they don't deserve the privilege of breathing in oxygen. But with Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold gives us a glimpse into the life of one of said teenagers, perhaps in an attempt to let us understand why 15 year-old girls are the way that they are (i.e., spawns of the devil). For the most part, she succeeds.

As hinted, Fish Tank revolves around the life of Mia (newcomer Katie Jarvis), a young girl living in a lower class, project-like area of England. Not surprisingly, every day is a struggle, as her Mother (Kierston Wareing) is raising Mia and her younger sister alone, and being a great parent doesn't seem to be a top priority for her. Mia is socially incapable, and is constantly starting fights, using both her mouth and fists. Her only hobby or interest other than calling her mother awful names seems to be dancing. We learn that her Mother, Joanne, is soon sending Mia away to a school for evil seeds such as herself, and obviously without her consent. But this is only another thing to throw on to the pile, and it's only when Joanne's new boyfriend Connor, played by Michael Fassbender, enters the scene when things start shaking up. It's from this point on where the film takes off and tensions arise, specifically between Mia and Connor, and largely focuses on their confusing relationship, but it's really only an excuse to see how Mia reacts and deals with the unusual situation.

Throughout the film, Mia continues to do things that constantly baffle and bewilder me besides the fighting, screaming and random mood swings, so the line between feeling compassion for Mia or not is very hazy at times. It's not until the final act when I truly started feeling invested in Mia as a character, likely because it is the first time that she expresses any real emotion other than anger. Early on in the film, Mia discovers an ill-looking horse that is chained up by some mobile homes, right on the side of the highway. For a reason that is largely unexplained, she attempts to free the creature on more than one occasion. Towards the ending of the film, she learns that the horse dies, and she breaks down and cries. After everything we witness Mia go through, after all the violence, heartbreak and lawbreaking, Mia didn't shed a single tear. But this is what drives her over the edge - an animal she has virtually no connection or association with. Or at least, one she shouldn't have a connection with. Not surprisingly, Mia is offered the chance to run away, and she accepts for a chance to get away from a life that she despises. It is also not until the final minutes of the film that we see Mia and her mother share any sort of bond or enjoyment together, but our hearts sink again when we realize that this moment is very brief, because Joanne is still, and will always be a crappy mother, and Mia is leaving home, and probably for a long time.

It is quite a ride to witness the insane ways an angry 15-year old will handle certain situations, especially heartbreak, but the last act is admittedly loses me a little. Fish Tank is one of the better "not-a-girl-but-not-yet-a-woman" films, but like any other film, it has it's ups and downs, although it succeeds on most other levels, especially the acting, if it is to be believed that Jarvis has no previous acting experienceFish Tank is perhaps what Thirteen attempted to be. Only with Thirteen, I just ended up despising these monsters called "tweens" even more than I did prior to seeing the film. Fish Tank might take this to the extreme, because while these girls can be brats, Mia certainly takes it to the next level. However, that is probably necessary in order for the film to be above average on the entertainment value. Fish Tank is definitely worth the watch, but having been released by the Criterion Collection, you probably didn't need me to tell you that. Does this movie change my exhaustingly negative opinions on teenage girls? Possibly. Maybe. Probably not. No.