— by MARIUSZ ZUBROWSKI —
The English have a term called “chav.” It’s usually used among teenagers and those of a younger-demographic. It has a multitude of meanings, but the predominate definition is “scum of the Earth” (according to Urban Dictionary anyway).
“Chavs” are described as being recognizable by their immature and rude personalities and also by their “phat beats,” which they use to create the image that they are “hardcore gangsters.” The degeneration in today’s youth is usually blamed on music, video games, television, etc., and “Red Road” director Andrea Arnold has taken notice.
In her latest film, “Fish Tank,” which garnered prestige at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Arnold explores the topic of social decline through the story of Mia, an ostracized teenager whose life gets even harder when her mother brings home a new boyfriend. “Fish Tank” is uncompromising in its message and perhaps too much so, as the characters are more obnoxious than parents who bring their screaming toddlers to packed film-premiers.
Newcomer Katie Jarvis plays Mia, a trouble-making teenager who has been expelled from school and follows her own set of rules. She has no friends but she has one passion — dancing. More specifically, dancing to hip-hop music. She holds onto her dream of making it big as she’s forced to endure the struggles of a broken home. Mia’s mother, Joanne, is a partying drunk who often criticizes her. But Mia’s life becomes even harder when Joanne starts dating Connor, who is played by Michael Fassbender. Connor promises to inject love into Mia’s broken relationship with her mother, but just further collapses the aspiring dancer’s life.
The title “Fish Tank” derives from the nature of Mia’s struggles. Just like a fish in a tank, Mia is supposed to be the goodness incarnate who remains unchanged by an always-evolving outside environment. However, Mia is instead presented as being rude, obnoxious and ultimately unlikeable. Though it is easy to look at her circumstances and feel pity, it’s not easy to find a redeemable quality.
Speaking about unlikeable characters, Mia isn’t the only one. In fact, it’s the whole cast. This was intentional, but without there being someone who shines above the scum, it’s unforgivable. Because of this, “Fish Tank” quickly transforms from holding integrity against all odds on a pedestal and instead glorifies the “chavs.” Director Andrea Arnold makes it seem like the world is going to be hell and there isn’t a thing that anyone can do about it (at least not in England).
There is nothing wrong in the acting, but the way that the characters are developed makes the performances quite forgettable. Fortunately, the performers who play Mia and Conner, Kate Jarvis and Michael Fassbender, have bright futures ahead of them; it’s obvious that they tried and succeeded in capturing the characters that they were hired to play — unfortunately, this isn’t a good thing in “Fish Tank.”
Andrea Arnold’s sophomore picture has a definite agenda and it shows an honest effort. However, the sheer stupidity of the characters, intentionally or not, overshadows everything in “Fish Tank” and even distorts its own message. Pair that with a nearly implausible third act, and you get a uncompromising drama that trips over its own ultra-realism.
— Click here for three clips from ‘Fish Tank’ —
Follow Mariusz Zubrowski on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ijm_Mariusz.