Yesterday, rather uncharacteristically I watched a movie without superheroes. Every now and then I will watch a gritty social drama about growing up in a worse district of a generally nice place, ever since Fucking Åmål enchanted me many years ago. My newest addition to this collection is British Fish Tank about Mia, a dancer wannabe from a more or less pathological family and the relationship she develops with her mother’s boyfriend. Of course, to make matters sufficiently gritty, Mia is fifteen and the boyfriend’s approach degenerates from paternal to decisively different.
The movie excels in the acting department. Michael Fassbender as the boyfriend manages to be both repulsive and intriguing. Obviously, he’s got the charisma (and, let’s face it, the looks) to make a viewer sympathetic where another actor would only come off as a predatory creep. I’m still not sure if that’s all Connor was or if he started as well-meaning and lost control later on. (Side note: never ever do I accept the explanation that sex is something that just happens and so dirty particulars can be excused; my uncertainty is about how much his actions were premeditated, not whether they were innocent because they obviously weren’t.)
Katie Jarvis as Mia also deserves praise for how she mixes strength with vulnerability. You can’t exactly like her but you can’t help wanting her to find luck in the end. She’s also wonderfully real, with her unflattering hairdo and far-from-perfect dance moves. Finally, the supporting actors are pretty great: the mother suffering from arrested development and male-dependency (not to mention other dependencies) and the little sister, already fated to repeat the same mistakes. Even though written more or less as clichés, they manage to appear human.
While actors work overtime to make this movie memorable, writing proves a little weaker. The movie is terribly predictable. From the array of characters you know the outline of what will happen. There are points in the story where it could take a different route but it simply doesn’t. The only thing that surprised me, and this gives the movie at least a star more in my assessment, was restraint when it came to violence. For instance, I was groaning internally – spoiler alert – expecting the little girl to drown, especially after the movie made sure we knew Mia couldn’t swim. What happened next was the only surprise of the movie and I really liked it.
Subtlety is also sorely missing when it comes to symbolism: what with the dead horse, and the fish eaten by the dog and especially the escaping balloon at the end… But I’ve come to expect that from Bildungs…films, I guess. It was still not nearly as bad as in a certain Polish film where a boy made carton angel wings for the girl he liked. Well, that’s not what teenagers did centuries ago when I was one.
All in all, Fish Tank might not make it to the top of my favorite movies but for a two-hour-long film without any spandex in it, it proved interesting and thought-provoking and made me appreciate Fassbender’s skills yet a little more.