*Note: While Fish Tank came out in Britain last year, it came out in the U.S. this year, and is in fact eligible for the 2011 Academy Awards.
I waited a long time to see this movie, mainly because it was drowning in hype. I'm not sure I waited long enough, as the first half of the movie didn't live up to anything I'd heard. While beautifully filmed, acted, and directed, the story moved all too predictable to a certain point. But man, once it reached that point, it explodes in a hundred different directions, none of them expected.
Fish Tank tells the story of a tough 15-yr old girl living in an Essex council house. When it was first released, it was promoted as a sort of white, British Precious (which I have yet to see). But while the specter of Precious has faded since the controversy it generated, Fish Tank has remained a part of the film conversation.
As I mentioned, it is beautifully directed. Director Andrea Arnold knows colour, and she knows flesh, and she teases eroticism out of the most unsexy moments, reflecting Mia's sexual awakening in the film.
The film opens with a surprisingly non-judgemental tour of Mia's home, which encompasses her drunken and emotionally distant mother's tiny flat, the estate, and the surrounding parking lots. To face harrowing circumstances (often of her own making, to be fair) she puts her energy into her dancing (there will be no comment on the quality of that dancing here. Suffice it to say, myself and the friend I watched the movie with have a new patented dancefloor move called "The Fish Tank," which I suspect endears us to no one at all.)
After a particularly frightening incident involving travellers (that's gypsy to you Americans), Mia wakes up to find a man in the kitchen; her absent mother has taken a new lover. Mia's lust goes completely undisguised, as Arnold's camera caresses Connor's (Michael Fassbender's) half naked body. The spell is just as suddenly broken when their interaction is reduced to making tea.
From that moment on, every scene they share is erotically charged, whether they are alone on the screen or accompanied by Mia's mother or sassy little sister. This is what I referred to earlier, as the movie moved slowly and predictably toward certain good-at-the-time bad ideas. Then, after that anticlimactic but utterly necessary turning point, the film's pace shifts from a slow tiptoe to a swift tumble through events dark, emotional, and downright terrifying.
Part of what made this an excellent film is that we are not merely watching Mia be exploited; Mia was borne into unfortunate circumstances, and we see her do the best she can to face them; and her best is often wrong.