Fish Tank (2009)
Directed and written by Andrea Arnold
Produced by Kees Kasander, Nick Laws, Lisette Kelder, Christine Langan, David M. Thompson, Paul Trijbits
Starring Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing, Rebecca Griffiths, Harry Treadaway, Sydney Mary Nash
“When poverty comes in at the doors, love leaps out at the windows.”
How did Arnold’s rather dull drama concerning the mundane, meandering misadventures of a testy teen (Jarvis) domiciled in a grimy estate with her equally nettlesome mother (Wareing) and sister (Griffiths) enjoy nearly universal commendation when far more piercing, prepossessing pictures produced globally that treat of life at the bottom are scarcely noticed abroad? The answer is as simple as politicized: like its stateside similitude, the rancid filmic culture of this western hemisphere’s most flagrantly degenerate, hypocritical and misgoverned police state promotes by celebration or mere exposure trying women at their worst. Jarvis’ reckless chavette clashes daily with everyone in her crummy neighborhood, and dopily aspires to a career as a hip-hop dancer; after she eventually entertains advances by her mother’s seductively sexy boyfriend (Fassbender), she investigates his other life’s suburban superfice — a revelation in contradistinction to her own aimless mire. This grossly overrated, kitchen sink exploration is credible (if not compelling) as much for the unflatteringly well-founded depiction of its broken family’s intemperance, bellicosity, hypersensitivity, alcoholism and parental dereliction as the facility of cast, crew and director alike, but it’s ultimately as facile as its subjects. Such simplicity’s best exemplified by the bathos of a late scene in which mother and daughter reconcile valedictorily by dancing together to noxious hip-hop, evidencing Arnold’s nescience or deliberate disregard of the fact that those trashiest, most philistine elements in popular culture are promoted to fortify fetters shackling the impoverished to their subsidized squalor. Cinema’s great observers of their respective underclasses — Chaplin, Loach, Imamura, Leigh, Kobayashi, the Dardennes, et al.; contemporarily, Ramsay and Kore-eda — all elicited from asperity, deprivation, ascendant ambition and failure some key apercus regarding penury and its effect on human nature. Her characters are amusing for their pugnacity and its consequential altercations, but Arnold can’t dig deep in shallow ground.
Instead, watch Kes, The Insect Woman, Meantime, Rosetta, Sweet Sixteen…