Who’s In It: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing, Rebecca Griffiths, Harry Treadaway
The Basics: Fifteen-year-old Mia Williams (Katie Jarvis) is a troubled, angry teenager who lives in a council house in Essex with her trampy single mother (Kierston Wareing) and her foul-mouthed little sister (Rebecca Griffiths). Too antisocial for the friends she once had, Mia spends her days wandering her working-class neighborhood: we watch as she tries to rescue a chained horse, crosses a pair of teenage thugs, gets drunk on a daily basis, and practices hip-hop dancing in an abandoned apartment unit in the hopes of becoming a professional b-girl. (With her skills it ain’t gonna happen, but A for effort.) When Mia’s mom brings home a new boyfriend, the friendly and fatherly Connor (Michael Fassbender, H-O-T and virtually unrecognizable from his Inglourious Basterds role), a mutual and waaaay inappropriate interest develops between them that culminates one drunken night – and then, the real trouble begins.
What’s The Deal: Fish Tank is a perfect storm of teen angst, kitchen-sink realism, and a startlingly beautiful and evocative brand of filmmaking that heralds writer-director Andrea Arnold as one of Britain’s clearest new voices. Arnold constructs Mia’s ramshackle world with details so authentic and emotion so compelling that you understand implicitly why she’s such an aggressive young woman -- when it comes to Mia’s destructive relationship with her abusive, selfish mother, the only teenager suffering more in contemporary film is Precious Jones. Her coming-of-age story is also a tale of urban living, teenage sexuality, and how the absence of guidance and love can lead smart young people towards delinquency and worse – until they come to a tipping point, as Mia does, and must decide to either confront the world or lose themselves in it.
World, Meet Katie Jarvis: Arnold’s scouts found the now-18-year-old Katie Jarvis while she was fighting with her boyfriend on a train platform in the same county where the film takes place, which is kind of perfect casting. While her dancing skills leave something to be desired (it still works in the film – is she actually a good break dancer, or just terrible at the one thing she loves to do?) Jarvis has the cocksure attitude of Lady Sovereign and can explode at any moment into a barrage of hostile epithets, yet reveals incredible vulnerability in the film’s quieter moments.
The Best Soundtrack Of 2010 That You've Already Heard: Fish Tank features a very specific, very eclectic array of music that mixes together organically as if all of the characters – rap fan Mia, her reggae-loving mom, her MTV-obsessed little sis, and soul aficionado Connor – got along long enough to make one big mix tape. You may wonder why, in 2009, Mia is listening to Eric B. and Rakim’s “Don’t Sweat the Technique” and watching Ja Rule and Ashanti’s music video for 2002’s “Down 4 U” for dance tips; well, in her cash-strapped world, it takes a while for America’s hit albums to trickle across the Atlantic. Also, Eric B. and Rakim rule. Besides, what hip-hop fan can resist a movie about a white girl that uses Nas’s “Life’s a Bitch” as a thematically-significant song AND a plot device that turns into one of the film’s most moving scenes?
The Scene I Loved Most: Mia watches as her former BFF leads a group of awkward girlfriends in a horrible, super skanky dance routine to Cassie’s “Me and U,” then insults their dancing skills and head-butts a girl in the face. Sweet!