What do you think of when you hear the words “fish tank”? Nemo? Plastic plant life? Bubble machine dealy? How about the feeling of being completely, and hopelessly trapped? What about feeling everyone is watching you? These are the feelings I experienced when watching Andrea Arnold’s film “Fish Tank”.
“Fish Tank” has already won a myriad of awards, and apparently is 2009’s most decorated film in Britain. Not only that, but its writer/director won an Oscar a few years back for her film “Wasp”. So, I’m waiting patiently to see which awards she gets from the American release of this film.
The film is loaded with amazingly memorable characters. The film stars eighteen-year-old Katie Jarvis as fifteen-year-old hip-hop dance enthusiast Mia Williams. Mia is a girl who is so fed-up with the world around her she’s at war with it. She’s friendless, has a younger sister whom I’m quite certain is possessed by Satan, and a mother who’s a drunk, a hussy, and would just as soon slap Mia as look at her. She’s a volatile girl in a volatile world.
I’d like to mention how quickly this film roped me into its clutches. There’s a little rule about formula when it comes to film, and screenwriting. The rule is, the first 10 pages of a script, or first 10 minutes of a film must do something to draw the audience into the story. Usually something profound needs to happen. Syd Field put it in humorous, but wise terms when he said (paraphrasing of course), “if your audience is thinking about going to the snack bar, toilet, or playing on their cell phone, or anything else during the first 10 minutes of the film…you’ve lost them.” I bring this up because for Mia’s world, shit hits the fan immediately. There was no time to think about what snacks I’d forgotten because I became genuinely interested in what the hell happened to this girl.
Within the first two minutes we learn a ton about Mia as a person. She makes a phone call to her friend — a friend we find out quickly – Mia has lost to a falling out because she can’t control her temper. After the phone call, she jogs to the same friend’s house, and throws rocks at the girl’s dad to ensure he leaves a message for his daughter. Immediately after this, Mia gets into a fight with a group of girls because of their “terrible dancing”. Within virtually no time at all, we’ve learned just about everything we need to know about Mia: she’s loves dance, she’s alone, and she’s a complete bitch. The latter makes liking her very difficult.
What I enjoyed most about this film is how real it felt. It’s so well acted, most notably by Jarvis, I felt transported back to my teenage years when I felt the same as this kid: miserable and angry. Perhaps it’s due to Jarvis’s real age that makes her performance so authentic. Arnold’s writing of this film is nothing short of flawless. Watching it, I felt trapped in a shitty family, in a shitty town, and under shitty circumstances right along with Mia. The backdrop Arnold chose to shoot against, again, a great and flawless move. Every step Mia takes through her world mirrors the crappy emotions going on inside her head. It works out wonderfully.
I can’t say too much more without giving away key points of the film so I’ll bite my tongue for now on the big stuff, and say the following: the conflict Arnold creates in this film is fantastic, and Mia is the cause of most of it. Her only real dream is to be a dancer. She gets the chance to pursue the dream, and the outcome might surprise a few people. The story gets really interesting when Mia’s mother brings home her latest boyfriend. Right from the get-go he’s unrelentingly nice, but it’s clear he has some issues of his own. When those issues came to light I was blown away. All of this adds up to an explosive and, in parts, surprising…almost funny…ending.
All in all, great film, great cast and acting, wonderfully written, extremely honest and human, made me think about my own life’s circumstances more than once.