British indie “Fish Tank,” directed by Andrea Arnold, hits US theaters this weekend. Last month, the film received two British Indie Awards for Best Director and Most Promising Newcomer (Katie Jarvis); the film also won AFI’s top prize and our weekly criticWIRE poll. In the film, Kate Jarvis plays a volatile fifteen-year old whose coming-of-age is disrupted when her mother (Kierston Waring) brings home a mysterious man (Michael Fassbender). Click here for an exclusive interview with Arnold on indieWIRE.
indieWIRE‘s Eric Hynes calls “Fish Tank” “a film so fearless, honest, and wise about emergent female sexuality that no grading curve is necessary. She approaches sex not as an aspect of politics but of experience, continuous with life’s other impulses, bafflements, dangers, and joys.” In a A- review for Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum notes, “Andrea Arnold (‘Red Road’), an astute chronicler of lower-class turf, mostly steers clear of the expected, especially with the remarkable Jarvis in the lead, a non-pro who was 17 when the movie was shot. A local girl from the same blighted Essex neighborhood where the film is set (as is the excellent Wareing, who also starred in leading miserablist Ken Loach’s ‘It’s a Free World’), the amazingly natural first-timer was discovered, in a gift of publicity-ready truth, while having an argument with her boyfriend at a train station. Word is, she didn’t even dance, and was shy to do so on camera. In freeing her young star’s physicality in Fish Tank, Arnold also demonstrates one way a girl might learn to swim up and out.”
Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir absolutely glows about the film, “I’m telling you here and now to seek out ‘Fish Tank,’ either at a big-city theater or via VOD, because it’s absolute dynamite. As cheesy as this is, you could say it combines the best elements of ‘Precious’ and ‘An Education,’ and not be cheating. It’s an explosive female coming-of-age story set against a dreary backdrop of poverty, abuse and neglect — in this case the grim suburban housing developments on the working-class outer fringes of London (the title refers to a certain blocky style of glass-fronted apartment) — with an astonishing breakout lead performance from Katie Jarvis, its teenage star.” Lauren Wissot, in Slant Magazine, joins the chorus of supporters, “The British director’s filmmaking style is precise and concise, as tight and lean as her teenage heroine. Because this coming-of-age tale contains not one extraneous word or image, its strong visceral atmosphere is allowed to organically emerge.”
In the New York Press, Armond White disagrees, “Making her second feature film, director Andrea Arnold follows the Loach-Clarke- Leigh template but with none of the insight. Arnold has baby-sister impudence. Mia’s misery is routine, just as the circumstances of her dislocation (her still-immature, romantically active single mother who keeps a slatternly home; her lack of educational interest; her submersion in overly sexualized teen pop) establishes a cliché portrait of social ills.This al most anorexically thin white girl who likes to break-dance fits clinical stereotypes no differently than the obese black girl of Precious.” The Village Voice‘s Ella Taylor is similarly disappointed, “What’s best about ‘Fish Tank’—Arnold’s gift for atmospherically evoking what it feels like to inhabit an unsteady, frequently hostile, and arbitrary world, and to respond in kind—ends up fatally undermined by a denouement so hammy, it invokes a giggle rather than a tear.”