Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fish Tank. (2009) Andrea Arnold

Katie Jarvis turns in a riveting performance here. She effortlessly bewitches with a smile or a glare. Discovered by director Arnold on a subway, she is magnetic and defiant in her impressive film debut.

I cannot talk about her magnetic performance enough, because otherwise I'll be railing at the film itself. Pitched as some sort of social realist coming of age story, it offers little in the way of "coming of age" and less in the way of "social."

Coming of sex is not coming of age, and the coming of sex in Fish Tank messes up every party involved. Maybe that's the point, and I'm fine with that. It's just that the story is old and it's been done better a hundred times before.

There's nothing "Profound," as is listed on the poster above. Toward the end there's supposed to be a meaningful metaphor of a dying horse somehow related to the importance of the age of sixteen, but by that time I'd really lost interest. Arnold has made her choice to either not have the men involved or to pass them off as the enemy, and I do feel for Katie's character when I consider this. But it won't be considered very long at all, because the boorish nature of the film itself will have me forgetting the experience rather quickly.

It's a shame, too. I was half way there with Arnold's debut Red Road, and I've been rooting for her up to this point. (She hasn't completely lost me yet, I will be in attendance for her next film, still hoping.)

Filmed as a square in the 1:33 ratio with dull lighting against hardened interior sets, Arnold sometimes comes to life with her outside shots or her lens at night, when a backlit orangish-red atmosphere builds perfect nighttime suspense. Some of these moments become quite vivid, and these are what I hope to remember.

There are things to like, and I can see why some might be tricked. But there's simply not enough goodness in image to save the story's insensitivity. I have always maintained that image can save plot, as long as it matches the plot's desire. The image here cannot save this plot because it just can't keep up with its ugliness.

So, in a way, that's it: I'm complaining that it's just not ugly enough.

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