Acclaimed British coming-of-age drama may give in to some heavy-handed symbolism at times, but there is no denying the power of its honesty. Fifteen-year-old Mia (Jarvis) is a hip-hop lovin’ Angry Rebellious Teen causing trouble wherever she goes – and that includes pissing off local gypsies in an attempt to free a sad-looking old horse.
She picks fights, drinks beer and punctuates most sentences with vitriolic fervor. Imagine her surprise when her 30-year old floozie of a mother (Wareing) brings home a hunky boy toy (Fassbender) and he falls for her. Like Kids (1995), the movie peels back layers about teen sexuality and hence, won’t be for all audiences.
Jarvis’ performance is a breakthrough on many levels. Not only does the first-timer hold down the center of a difficult film with a layered and impressive performance, but prior to Fish Tank, had no previous acting experience. She was discovered when one of director Arnold’s casting assistants saw her arguing with her boyfriend in a train station.
Arnold shot the movie in the square-ish 1:33 ratio, which at first seemed like an inexplicable choice given the proliferation of widescreen TVs but the restrictive image actually frames Mia’s worldview rather effectively. Arnold, a previous Oscar winner for the live action short Wasp (2004), won the Jury Prize at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival. The movie also won British Independent Film Awards for Best Director and Most Promising Newcomer.
— DENNIS WILLIS