#169 Fish Tank
(2009, Andrea Arnold)
“Why should I care what you think?”
Britain has an entire genre of films and TV shows classed as kitchen-sink drama. They can be generally classified as slice-of-life dramas set in drab working class environments all about how hard it is to be a working class person in Great Britain. Fish Tank is a fairly recent addition to the genre, and is apparently noteworthy enough to be a film to see before you die. But is it that noteworthy?
Mia Williams (Katie Jarvis) is a socially distant and short-tempered girl living on a council estate who wants to be an urban dancer. She is antagonistic towards her mother (Kierston Wareing), but is fascinated by her new boyfriend, a charming Irishman named Connor (Michael Fassbender).
And that’s basically the plot. You see, not much particularly happens in Fish Tank. Mia tends to wander around yelling at people, repeatedly trying and failing to save a sickly looking horse from a traveller encampment and looking wonderingly at her mother’s new boyfriend. In fact, it’s not entirely clear what the movie is trying to say or achieve.
See, the first time we see Mia in the movie, she’s just finished a breakdancing routine, which means the first thing we learn about her is that she loves dancing and seemingly would like to dance professionally. So why, then, do we not have this a central plot point to hold the movie together?
That’s right, for all the advertising and opening scenes saying “this girl wants to be a dancer!”, the actual dancing takes a back seat for much of the movie. Sure, she finds a poster advertising for dancers partway through the movie, and attends an audition towards the end, but that’s pretty much the extent of it. So, in that case, what takes centre stage as the film’s central plot point?
To be honest…nothing really. There’s her fascination with Connor and there’s the “pikey” she befriends, but the former feels like it was made up as the film went along, while the latter was horrendously underdeveloped. Connor’s plot strand in particular gets a major twist towards the end of the movie that genuinely seems to come out of nowhere and raises a whole bunch of questions that never get satisfactorily answered.
And while we’re on the subject of Connor, he initially seemed like an interesting character. Charming and intelligent, but with a hidden dark edge, he seemed like he’d really take the film somewhere. But he just became a character who seemed to be there for the sake of it, and seemed to make tons of terrible decisions that betray his supposed intelligence. Such as choosing to date Mia’s mother, who is a horrible person.
Speaking of horrible people, much of the cast fit this description too. The problem with making much of the cast of your movie much-maligned “chavs” is that you really have to work to make them likeable, and director Andrea Arnold didn’t really do a good job of this.
Mia especially was loud and brash and not particularly smart. It was hard to find much to like about her beyond maybe hoping that she’d become a better character through the events of the movie. Sadly, this doesn’t happen, and she ends the movie much where she started. It’s hard to really connect with this character, and since the camera is pointed at her most of the time, that’s a very bad thing.
The movie also fails to resolve in any kind of decent way. In fact, I hope it’s not much of a spoiler to say that the movie ends almost exactly where it begins, without Mia becoming a better character or even achieving much.
So, ultimately, Fish Tank is a bit pointless. It’s a meandering, navel-gazing waste of two hours. I’m sure there were some good intentions here, but without a likeable lead character or even much of a plot, it’s hard to recommend.
Starring Katie Jarvis, Kierston Wareing & Michael Fassbender
Written by Andrea Arnold
Produced by Nick Laws & Kees Kasander
Cinematography by Robbie Ryan
Edited by Nicolas Chaudeurge
Favourite Scene: Connor encouraging Mia’s dancing in a pub car park had the potential to help the movie become something interesting. Shame it didn’t last.
Scene That Bugged Me: Mia visits Connor’s home and discovers his major secret, and suddenly tons of questions are raised, and I gave up on the film.
Watch it if: You can bear to watch chavs do very little of interest
Avoid it if: You like your movies to have a point