Fish Tank: Criterion Collection
February 17, 2011
Fish Tank (2009) is Andrea Arnold’s third feature film and already she’s drawing comparisons to Ken Loach for her unflinching kitchen sink realism approach towards her depiction of working class English people. All three of her films feature young women living in housing projects and coming of age amidst tough social and economic conditions. Her latest film has garnered all sorts of acclaim and has positioned Arnold as part of a new wave of exciting British filmmakers to document the trials and tribulations of everyday people.
Thanks to edgy, hand-held camerawork by Robbie Ryan, we are immediately immersed in Mia’s (Jarvis) world – one which sees her insult a friend’s father and punch a teenage girl in the nose for questioning her dancing prowess. She lives with and barely tolerates her mother Joanne (Wareing) who seems to exist only to give Mia grief. The teenage girl aspires to be a dancer but she certainly has a lot to learn. Still, it provides a temporary respite from her dreary life, which gets considerably more complicated when she meets Connor (Fassbender), her mother’s latest boyfriend. Mia is intrigued by his disarming charm and good looks. He even gets along with her younger sister Tyler (Griffiths). He seems too good to be true and this may be the case the more Mia gets to know him.
Plucked literally off the streets, Katie Jarvis is a revelation as the strong-willed Mia. She is able to get us immediately invested in her character so that we care about and want to know what happens to her next. There is a realness to her performance, unencumbered by acting school and all the baggage that can come with it and this rawness is ideally suited for the role of Mia.
Fresh from his astounding performance in Hunger (2008), Michael Fassbender brings an easygoing charm to the role as evident in how Connor gradually wins over Joanne’s daughters. The actor is also able to hint that there’s more going on with his character as we only see him through Mia’s eyes. Inviting further comparisons to Ken Loach is the casting of Kierston Wareing (who starred in Loach’s It’s a Free World) as Mia’s mother. She has the world-weary attitude of someone who’s led a tough life with little hope of it getting much better. Wareing resists the temptation of playing the stereotypical bitchy mother by offering us glimpses of humanity.
Not much happens in terms of plot but Fish Tank isn’t that kind of film. It is all about the characters and the narrative is driven by their actions and the decisions these people make. The drama comes from how these decisions affect their lives. Arnold’s film is filled with all kinds of wonderful moments that provide insights into these characters and their lives so that by the end we are left wondering what might happen to them in the future.
There is an interview with actress Kierston Wareing in which she talks about how she got the role. She gives her impressions of the film and, specifically, her character. Wareing talks about some of the nuances of her performance and the choices she made in this excellent featurette.
Also included is an audio interview with Michael Fassbender who talks about his career in general with an emphasis on Fish Tank. He talks about what drew him to the film – Arnold’s grasp of human behavior. Naturally, he talks about his character and working with Arnold.
There is audition footage of various young girls trying out for the role of Mia. It features them dancing to various songs.
Also included is a collection of three short films Arnold made prior to Fish Tank, including “Wasp,” which earned her an Academy Award for best live-action short film.
There is a gallery of production photographs.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.