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Foreign Correspondunce

September 30, 2009
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Movie Review:  Fish Tank

By Jenna

fish_tank_posterWhen I first read Frothygirlz, there was a spate of posts concerning films whose central plot revolved around dance.  There was Bring It On, there was Step It Up (parts 1 & 2), there was Centre Stage (parts 1 & 2), possibly even Take the Lead (but possibly not), and a host of others.  Additionally there has been a great deal made of So, You Think You Can Dance, a television show I have not seen, but whose U.K. equivalent I have, BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. Our version is hosted by an old guy (like, older than Regis old) and a hot generic blonde who functions mainly as a human crutch with deep cleavage for the benefit of said old guy.  In any case, having seen only a sliver of the B-grade contemporary dance film offerings I was amused, intrigued and immediately wanted to throw my blister-inducing Capezios onto the dance floor of good intentions and pulled hamstrings.

And then along came Fish Tank.

The back story on this one is good enough on its own.  The young star of Fish Tank, 17-year-old Katie Jarvis, was discovered on a train platform shouting abuse at her boyfriend, who was standing on the opposite platform.  When approached by a casting agent, she a) thought it was a put-up job and b) declared she hates dancing.  Sounds like star material.  And so she is.  Rarely off-camera, Jarvis dominates every scene with a raw vulnerability and a flinty bravado.  Clichéd as it may sound, Jarvis isn’t just acting the part, she is the part.  Having left home some time before, Jarvis was sleeping on her sister’s couch throughout filming.  While the film was earning raves at Cannes this year, she was back in England tending to her one week old daughter.  Girl is street.

The film deals with 15-year-old Mia, a girl with some serious anger control issues.  When she’s not shouting obscenities at anyone who crosses her path or dodging social welfare workers trying to ship her off to juvie, then she’s tossing back cans in an abandoned flat and practicing her hip hop moves.  That’s right, little white girl from the projects of Essex got a penchant for track suits and fresh beats by the likes of Nas.  What else you gonna do when your mama just wants you to piss off so she can enjoy her latest one night stand and get herself a healthy pour off the bottle of possibilities?  Just dance, little girl, just dance.

Complications arise when Mia’s lush of a mother brings home Connor, a too-good-to-be-true father figure for Mia and her little sister.  Upon their initial meeting, Mia calls him a donkey knob, to which he jovially replies, ‘I wish I did have a donkey knob, I’d be making a lot more money.’  What girl can resist that kind of wit?  None that I know.  Mia then careens into the it-can-only-end-badly-chasm of crushing hard on an inappropriately older man, which then hitches its wagon onto some serious daddy-issues and the recipe for disaster, she is in the oven.

Set against the unrelentingly depressing backdrop of British estate housing (see, you’d think it would be all posh being an estate, but think more like a trailer park that extends upward instead of outward, and you’ll be closer to the mark) Fish Tank director and writer Andrea Arnold manages to bring a visual lyricism to the cracked sheet rock and cluttered kitchen counters of the family’s council flat.  Otherwise mundane effects such as streetlights through cheap Venetian blinds are rendered poetic under cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s guidance.

While this isn’t exactly a film that would hold up well in a dance film dance off (although the final scene might be a contender: mother, daughter and little sister all bustin’ their groove thang ‘cause their words is broke and moves is all they got left…ahem, I think that was the tagline they didn’t go with) it is a film that realistically uses dance as a tool for expression.  This is not a showcase of people suddenly and inexplicably breaking into a choreographed frenzy as they eat pizza or climb stairs.  Instead, it is a rare look at someone who needs to dance, not for reasons of exhibition or grandstanding, but because it is an integral coping mechanism for an otherwise imperfect life.

Fish Tank:  7/10

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