Fish Tank is a gripping slice of life, coming of age drama. It is also an antidote to the proper costume dramas many still associate with British cinema and that some might be sick of. The film is more akin to the “gritty realism” of the angry young man British movies of the late fifties and early sixties, except in this case we have an angry young girl – a very angry and confused 15-year old girl named Mia Taylor (KATIE JARVIS).
Not that Mia doesn’t have a lot to be pissed off about. She lives in a depressing “council estate” (read public housing for American audiences). She has a self-absorbed, non-existent mother (KIERSTON WAREING) who dresses like a striper and literally has zero interest in what her children do. (The only interest she takes in her eldest daughter is trying to get her sent to reform school.) She has no friends and literally has no one to talk to – not even a girlfriend she can commiserate with. On top of that, she is stuck in limbo, with no prospects or future.
Because of this, she is incapable of expressing any emotion other than anger and regularly lashes out at anyone she can, but mostly at her mother and younger sister (REBECCA GRIFFITHS). Mia has no outlet for her emotions except her love for hip-hop dancing – which is her only respite. The only creatures she seems to relate to are the family dog and a horse chained up in the neighborhood, which she tries to free as it seems a symbol of her own trapped self.
So when her mother’s new boyfriend, Connor (MICHAEL FASSBENDER), enters the picture and is just ordinarily nice to her she can\’t help but take notice. She at first also pushes him away, like she does with everyone, but then reluctantly finds herself interested in him. Connor is the only positive force in Mia’s life – he encourages to pursue her dancing and to go on an audition. But is Connor just being nice to his girlfriend’s kid, or does he have other motives? His presence also seems to inspire her to reach out and make a new friend in the neighborhood, Billy (HARRY TREADAWAY). Although it is not clear at first whether she is looking for company or trying to make Connor jealous.
A lot of emotionally draining things happen to Mia during the climax of Fish Tank, but to talk about them too much would spoil the few surprises this movie has, as this isn’t a movie about plot. It is the emotional journey of a young girl that draws you in little by little and makes you really care about Mia and cringe every time she does something stupid. But as the drama unfolds, Mia finally comes to term with her life and takes a bit more control and by the end of the film, there is hope that she might actually make it and go onto something a little bit better that what she has known.
Fish Tank is open now in NYC and opens Friday in Los Angeles.