A fan of her first feature, Red Road (2006), I have looked forward to seeing British writer-director Andrea Arnold’s follow-up, which like its predecessor took the Jury prize at Cannes. (I have yet to see her short film “Wasp,” for which Arnold previously won an Oscar.) In addition, Fish Tank—for that is what the film is somewhat puzzlingly called—has won for Arnold numerous prizes, including from BAFTA and the London critics. Amidst so much praise, Fish Tank is most disappointing.
Fifteen-year-old Mia Williams (Katie Jarvis, brash and confident—but purely behavioral, possessing little depth) has been expelled from school and remains alienated from her scoffing peers, upon one of whom, passing her in a field, she inflicts a hard head-butt. Mia is on her way home; once there, her boozing, promiscuous mother, Joanne, Mia’s sole parent, smacks her head. Instant psychological explanation; this indeed turns out to be the film’s blunt, reductive procedure. It tells us what to think.
Joanne brings into their fairly posh welfare home her latest boyfriend, Irish security guard Connor (Michael Fassbender, flimsy—nonetheless, best supporting actor at Chicago and from the London critics); Mia initially acts hostile towards him, but we note her jealousy whenever the couple activate the bedsprings. Mia tells Connor he is nothing to her, but we see how confused she is about his growing role, whatever it is, in her life. Connor takes liberties (for instance, he playfully spanks Mia), and the two gradually gravitate towards one another sexually; after he and Mia make love, Connor abandons both mother and daughter and returns to his wife and little girl, whom Mia kidnaps before returning the kicking and screaming tot, who has just nearly drowned: for Mia, a wake-up call.
Cobbled together, contrived and predictable, although steadily involving, the plot grinds on. The atmosphere is diffuse; the handheld camera work, ostentatiously jittery. However, Mia’s chaotic feelings are real. Mia is 15 going on 5 and 25.
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