By Todd Gilchrist (reprint from the 2009 AFI Film Festival -- 11/14/09)
The movies' penchant for wish fulfillment often requires them to make their triumphs monumental, but the new film Fish Tank makes a convincing case for modesty. The story of a teenage girl discovering herself in Great Britain's equivalent of a housing project, its very conception is steeped in understated humanity, but writer-director Andrea Arnold refuses to indulge melodrama at every turn, creating a film that feels like a less romantic counterpart to another recent coming-of-age story, An Education, but is just as substantial.
Katie Jarvis plays Mia, an embittered, hostile 15-year old who comes home one day to discover that her party-girl mom Joanne (Kierston Wareing) has a new boyfriend named Connor (Michael Fassbender). Though initially standoffish, she slowly succumbs to his charms, especially after he encourages her to develop her burgeoning talents as a dancer. But as she advances closer to womanhood, attracting the attention of a young man her own age, Connor becomes increasingly protective of Mia, eventually drawing her into a relationship that tests the limits – as well as the boundaries - of their fragile, fledgling emotional bond.