Mia finds solace in hip-hop dancing which, while that does sound like a setup for one of those lousy teen dance movies that stars a hot face with a hotter bod, is wisely not placed as the focal point of the film. Instead, director Andrea Arnold (whose 2003 work Wasp won the Oscar for Best Short Film) utilizes the time in her sophomore feature to develop her characters through an important story that should be explored.
The key moments of the film highlight Mia’s family life. There is a nice scene where Connor takes Mia, her mother and her sister on a trip out of the projects, where he forms a camaraderie by sparking the childish yet revealing question, “What kind of animal would you be if you could come back as one?” Following the drive, Connor takes Mia into a stream to catch a fish with his bare hands. It’s a scene that’s just as inviting as the previous, until you figure out that Connor’s words (“Come here, slowly…”) and trapping technique are those usually dealt by a predator and not a father figure.
Though Arnold has a bit too optimistic of a future laid out for Mia and the escapist symbolism is laid on thick (there’s an out-of-place chained horse that Mia tries to set free numerous times, and the reappearance of “California Dreamin,” a classic song of escape), Fish Tank is still a harsh and (mostly) authentic portrait of what it’s like to be a girl in an environment she doesn’t belong in.
As the film relies almost solely on the performance of its lead, it was important that Arnold find exactly what she envisioned while writing the screenplay. That lead, Jarvis, is a girl who, as it goes, “had never acted before...She was spotted by a casting director having a fight with her boyfriend and was offered the role.” After reading that, her performance is all that more alive and personal. See Fish Tank for her and wonder, with the rest of us, just how far she goes from here.
Michael Fassbender (26:22): Fassbender, who plays Connor, chats with David Schwartz, curator at the Museum of the Moving Image, in this audio-only interview. He discusses working with Arnold and Jarvis, his “irresponsible” character and more. This is a fine listen though, again, the exclusion of Jarvis is frustrating.
Audition Footage (9:42): This addition offers a collection of footage featuring 10 actresses trying out for the part of Mia. It should be noted that each clip has the girls freestyle dancing and not running lines. Again, no Jarvis.
Short Films: Included are Arnold’s three short films, Milk (1998), Dog (2001) and Wasp (2003), which won the Academy Award for Best Short Film, Live Action.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 16-page booklet with an essay titled “An England Story” by film scholar Ian Christie.