Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank” was a big hit in Britain and at Cannes and now tries its hand at America, who will probably nickname it “White Precious.”
Anchored by a star-making performance from Kate Jarvis, Arnold’s film is more grit and zero melodrama, a step-up from the weepy style of “Precious.” Jarvis plays Mia, a teenager living in the ghetto where kids expect to follow in the option-less footsteps of their parents.
Her little sister (Rebecca Griffiths) is already smoking and emulating skanks on MTV and mom (Kierston Wareing) is a drunk throwing parties with very sketchy friends. Mia has a dream of becoming a dancer and she finds encouragement from mom’s new boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender), a hunky security guard who seems like a nice guy but is, at times, “too friendly.” It’s familiar other-side-of-the tracks territory but it doesn’t spend time wallowing in misfortune.
Arnold’s film is harsh, and with its use of language (the C and F words are used a lot), dead-end scenery, breathless sexual and violent encounters, and Jarvis’ award-worthy portrayal, it’s nothing short of compelling. It’s a brave performance, a rough-fighter exterior masking youthful vulnerabilities. Fassbender also impresses as a charming/shady character that you’re never quite sure has a sexual or fatherly preference toward Mia. It all comes down to a predictable yet scary ending where neglect turns dangerous.