I was a bit taken aback to find out that Fish Tank was Katie Jarvis’ first stab at acting, after being spotted by a casting agent for the British film, directed by Andrea Arnold. Apparently, the 18 year old lead actress was discovered while having an argument across platforms with her boyfriend, at a Tilbury train station in England. After watching the film, I was personally amused at the story of her discovery, primarily because a lot of what she does in the movie is argue.
From the movie’s start, Jarvis successfully pulls off the main character Mia, as being an emotionally impenetrable, and angst ridden 15 year old, and has appeal doing it. She is impulsive, witty, and most of all real.
Mia comes home to an Essex council estate, where one would imagine guests of an unruly talk show would reside, where laundry commonly hangs to dry throughout the front walkway of the public housing complex, and reggae music blasts from inside.
She lives with her unfit and self-absorbed mum, Joanne, who prefers partying over nurturing, and apparently lacks the maternal gene to express any affection for Mia and her incessantly cussing younger sister Tyler, whose casual dialogue is intermittently interjected with the word “cunt”.
This movie is believable because its plot intentionally disregards the common application of romantic optimism that says there is something more to life than this. Instead, the viewer gets the unspoken sense of realism from the characters that this is their life, and there lies the possibility that it may not change. While this may sound dreary, it is still rather terribly charming and simultaneously funny, and you can’t help but want to see more of the characters, and how they try to limit their interactions with each other in the slums that they call home.
At first, it seems that Mia doesn’t necessarily strive to become something better, because of the pessimistic hole that she exists in, and she lives her life as somewhat of a loner, isolating herself from the other girls, while solitarily consuming beer. It seems as if she has nothing of interest in her life until her passion of hip hop dancing is unveiled, where she secretly practices where no one can see her, exposing her insecurities and fears.
It’s not until she meets her mother’s new boyfriend, Connor, that Mia’s character starts to change from being shut off to the world, to more open to new possibilities. We see her daring and flirtatious side slowly unravel, as she becomes smitten with him, but soon enough, one realizes that her connection with him is more than just a crush, but rather an acknowledgement of her existence, as his encouragement gives her a newly found sense of self-worth.
Connor’s approval diminishes Mia’s adolescent insecurities, and builds up her curiosity and confidence in a world that never seemed even slightly promising, enough so that she takes her shaky dreams, and attempts to turn them into reality. The viewer is not aware until the end, of his intentions, but the relationship forming between the two is intriguing, keeping the viewer in anticipation of where it is going.
Jarvis is a natural, with an engaging aptitude, and if this is her first attempt at acting, I anticipate seeing some of her future roles, that is, if there are any. From Independent Films, Scottish director Andrea Arnold was quoted as saying, “She has got an agent and she’s been up for a couple of things which she’s got but hasn’t taken. I don’t know if she wants to continue. I think she does but she has just had a baby.” It was also noted that Jarvis was absent from the 2009 red carpet premier of the Grand Theatre Lumiere at the 62 annual Cannes Film Festival, due to her recovery from pregnancy.
The rest of the actors did an impressive job as well, and I found the casting in general for this film is deserving of some positive recognition.
Connor is played by Michael Fassbender, who also starred in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, as Lt. Archie Hicox, and Steve Mcqueen‘s Hunger, as IRA leader Bobby Sands. Connor can be perceived as a laid-back regular Joe, who smiles often and seems to generally just want to have a good time. At the same instance, his positive attitude and eagerness in joining this family, causes one to question his motives, turning his role into a more significant one, more than one might expect. Fassbender is effective at subtly provoking such suspicion, while concurrently, not being too obvious about it.
Kierston Wareing was nominated for 2010 British Actress of the Year Award for London Critics Circle Film Awards, for her role as Joanne, Mia’s party girl mother. Joanne is one of the main reasons why we can empathize with Mia, and this compassion is owed to Wareing’s abilities to make the viewers hate her for not being selfless enough to love her daughter more. Her lack of motherly inclination is more than credible and can be sensed from her overall aura projected from the way that she glares to her biting tone and physical mannerisms.
Mia’s sister, Tyler, is played by Rebecca Griffiths, who made her film debut in Fish Tank. Griffiths exudes fire and energy as a sharp eleven year old who can be perceived as verbally blunt and offensive. Griffith portrays the in your face role of the bratty little sister quite naturally and laughable, without making it seem too contrived or annoying.
Overall, the feel of Fish Tank, which made it appealing, was in its sense of emotion, humor, and authenticity, found not only within its characters, but in many of its details, ranging from the set design and wardrobe, to the cheesy hip hop dancing and rap music.
A movie worth watching, Fish Tank reminds one of the youthful vulnerability of feeling alone and insecure, and of the familiar glimpse of hope that one catches when another sees something inside of them that they are too afraid to show to the world.
Trailer for Fish Tank: