Fish Tank Review
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Last year, director Lee Daniels’s gripping urban drama, Precious, took Hollywood by storm, raking in a lengthy list of awards, including two Oscars. Meanwhile, its more modest British counterpart, Fish Tank, quietly collected its own awards overseas for its own brand of devastating drama.

Like Precious, Fish Tank is the story of an underprivileged teen in trouble. Fifteen-year-old Mia Williams (Katie Jarvis) is a trouble-maker who lives in the projects with her hard-partying mom (Kierston Wareing) and her little sister, Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths). Ignored by her mom, shunned by the other girls her age, and waiting to be shipped off to some special school for misfits, Mia spends her days wandering the streets, getting into fights, and practicing dance moves to her favorite hip-hop songs.

Even more than Gabourey Sidibe’s Oscar-nominated Precious, newcomer Jarvis’s skilled turn as Mia will break your heart. Mia may be a troubled kid, but you can’t really blame her for how she turned out. You might call her a victim of the system—of neglectful parenting, of a tough life in the projects. And Jarvis gives her a world-weariness that’s well beyond her years. She’s tough and street smart—but, at the same time, just one look in her eyes will tell you that she’s really just a sad little girl who’s desperate for a little bit of attention. She’s so desperate, in fact, that she’ll do anything to get the attention she needs.

Everything changes for Mia when she meets her mom’s new boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender). Unlike everyone else in her life, Connor actually takes an interest in her. He talks to her. He takes the family for rides in the country. He even encourages Mia’s dancing.

What Mia really needs in her life is a father figure—or any parent, for that matter. And, with Connor’s encouragement, she finally has the confidence to follow her dreams of becoming a dancer. But Mia soon discovers that Connor isn’t telling them the whole truth—and his feelings for her might not be entirely fatherly.

Like Precious, Fish Tank is an emotionally exhausting film—because, time and time again, just when things could (and should) get better for Mia, they only get worse. Of course, you’ll see it coming. From the moment she meets Connor, you’ll hope for the best, but you’ll fear the worst. And as the tension between them builds, so will that feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach.

Fish Tank is certainly an honest film. It doesn’t pull any punches—and it’s even grittier and more sincere than its award-winning American cousin. It’s skillfully acted, too. But, once again, it’s missing the all-important a-ha moment that would make it a truly moving and memorable film. Although it’s a gripping drama with a talented young star, it’s also helplessly, brutally bleak—not exactly an enjoyable Friday night movie-watching experience.

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