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)

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