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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Fish Tank (review)

Cinema is rife with portraits of angry young people. What makes this one so compulsively watchable is that here it is not the typical boy but a teenage girl who is so full of rage and so ready to lash out at everyone around her… and not without good reason, too. Some viewers may be turned off by the raw fury of 15-year-old Mia (newcomer Katie Jarvis), but they’re probably the ones who need to see this marvelously disturbing film most: for the reminder that life doesn’t have to be Precious-awful for a girl for growing up for it to be a nightmare, that mere ordinary adolescence can be brutal enough. Mia is just about enduring life in dreary council housing in working-class, industrial Dagenham, Essex, a remote eastern suburb of London, but things get infinitely worse and intriguingly more interesting when her hard-partying mother, Joanne (Kierston Wareing), brings home a new boyfriend, the evilly charming Connor (Michael Fassbender: Inglourious Basterds). Writer-director Andrea Arnold — who made the riveting Red Road a few years back — meanders through the confusion that Mia doesn’t even understand she’s experiencing and the naivete she doesn’t realize is being stripped away from her as she learns how to cope with the simultaneous attraction and repulsion she feels for Connor, as she struggles to assert herself the only way she knows how, through the dancing she’s not very good at. There is nothing but unrefined authenticity on display here, in yet another astonishing example of the new British cinematic realism, as we watch the train wreck of Mia’s mother, who can hardly have been older than Mia now when the teen was born, and wonder whether Mia herself is heading in that sad direction, or if she will find another way for herself. (available in the U.S. on IFC on Demand)


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
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  • eli

    Dear Maryann Johanson,

    Fish Tank was awright, but i think the phrase “unrefined authenticity” is a bit misplaced (and devalued) here, just as is the word “new” in the same sentence. I felt a bit weary watching another British disaffected youth film, having had enough of Ken Loach’s output ten years ago. I sensed a bullying agenda in Fish Tank that made me wish i was watching Mike Leigh.

    If you can find it, I would suggest the Czech film “Katka” for an unrefined and authentic story of a young girl with problems. It’s aired at a few international film festivals, but I;m not aware of its availability in the States. Try it out of you can find it!

  • Niamh

    Sorry to be picky but it wasnt actually Dagenham it was Rainham! Had to point it out as i grew up there and loved seeing it on film. Not sorry to have moved but dont remember it as a bad place lots of good times even if we didnt have two hapennys (cents ) to rub together!! Great film though, very bleak!

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