There aren't very many movies about adolescence that get it right.
Fish Tank does. It's about desperation, powerlessness, frustration, naivete, heartbreak, painful awkwardness, and sexual and emotional vulnerability. Living in the British projects with a careless and abusive mother, Mia (Katie Jarvis) is an enraged teen who takes a liking to her mother's new boyfriend Connor (Hunger's Michael Fassbender). He returns the affection, a little too much, and a curious relationship develops between the two.
Fish Tank has been the subject of constant praise since it opened at Cannes last year, and it's clear why: The characters are compelling, the performances pitch-perfect, and the story well crafted. Interspersing a portrait of an ugly life with moments of surprising beauty—cloudy landscapes, happy photographs, a stormy gray sea—it paints a crystal clear picture of an individual life.
Jarvis in particular turns in a stunning performance, walking the line between childish naivete and adult savvy with perfect poise. Mia is a girl too angry and desperate to be afraid, an aspiring dancer who takes her moves from hiphop music videos and attempts to break dance with all the wobbly self-doubt of adolescence—that is, when she's not picking fights with other girls her age, roughnecks in the nearby trailer park, her friend's surly father, or whoever else walks by.
This deeply effective character study did such a good job of pulling me into Mia's experiences that when the movie hit its climax, adrenaline nearly sent my heart flying through my ribcage, because I believed in Mia, and everything that happened to her was happening to me.
Catch Fish Tank at the Landmark Varsity this week: Opens tomorrow, plays through next Thursday at 1:30, 4:20, 7:00, and 9:35. One week only—don't miss it. For real.