Jun 14, 2012

Hard To Watch: Fish Tank

Guest blogger Eau de la Trine views hard-to-watch films so that you don't have to:
Photo Credit: Eau de la Trine
Film: Fish Tank

This movie contains the following uncomfortable subjects:
  • Awkward British Puberty
  • Statutory Rape
  • Trashy MILFs
  • White People Break Dancing
Hard to Watch Rating:
3 out of 5 (cringe-inducing) stars
  • If you ever tried to choreograph your own dance routine for a middle school talent show, some of the scenes may bring back wince-inducing memories.
  • This film manages to succeed in making the already uncomfortable topic of teenage sexuality even more uncomfortable by paring it with other things that are even less sexy. Like parents. Older men with gross mustaches. And the notion of sloppy seconds in reference to both. 

I’m going to spoil a lot in this synopsis, so just skip to the bottom if you ever want to see this movie spoiler-free.

In the classic nature-vs-nurture debate, Andrea Arnold's British coming of age tale Fish Tank presents a convincing argument for Team Nurture. Mia, played by Katie Jarvis, is a hard-ass 15-year-old maturing in a hard-ass section of Essex. A loner and aspiring Fly Girl, Mia's only means of escape involve practicing her amateur break dance routine alone on the roof of a run-down apartment building. Sadly, her dance moves reek, but she's got tenacity, yo, and a determination that would put Ren McCormack and Napoleon Dynamite to shame. Also, she could seriously kick their asses in a street fight.

Home life for Mia sucks. Her single mum is a mid-thirties trashy MILF with a penchant for going shirt-no-pants and dancing to raggaeton. Even worse, Mum constantly out-cools her teenage daughter, boozing and boning boyfriends in the cramped apartment she shares with Mia and Mia's younger sister.

Then one fateful morning, Mum's new boyfriend, played by Michael Fassbender, waltzes into their kitchenette with no shirt on and dazzles the dysfunctional family with his adult charms and bodacious bod. This guy's a quintessential butterface, and there's just something about him that's slightly off. Could it be his disappointingly homely mug, his creepy crustache, or his carpet hair? It could just be his classically English bad teeth. Never mind those, though, because BF (Butterface) owns a car and beguiles the family into going on a country road trip. He introduces Mia to a new sexy style of bare-handed fishing called noodling, and, when Mia cuts her foot in the river, BF tenderly bandages her with his old sweaty sock (Aww-eww)! Plus, he's totally taking special notice of her killer dance moves. This guy is for realz.
Guest Blogger Eau de la Trine

Mia confides in BF, sharing her dreams of dance freaking her way out of town. When a local flyer advertises FEMALE DANCERS WANTED, BF supportively asks, "You gonna go for this thing?" Then he cleans her bandages again, caresses her gross fish feet and insists she borrow his fancy video camera to record her practice to submit to the big audition. He's like the hot, creepy-mustached father with six pack abs she never had!

After a series of questionable fatherly moments and flirtatious advances, BF and Mia have a heart-to-heart in the living room while Mum is passed out drunk upstairs. He insists Mia privately perform the hot breakdance routine she's been so diligently practicing for the big audition. In the world's most unsexy sex scene (combining juvenile dance styling and lusty middle-age couch voyeurism), BF gives her the what-for on Mom's appliqued couch cushions and then takes off the next morning. It turns out, his crustache wasn’t a crustache at all – it was a MOLESTache the whole time!

It’s all pretty much downhill from there for Mia, with her finding evidence that BF is actually a married BF, that her dream of a dance competition was actually a stripper-call, and that the only way to figure it all out is to drink herself silly and get kicked out of school. There is also a kidnapping and the attempted murder of a minor (what?).

Still, the film ends on a surprisingly uplifting note as Mia, humbled by life's harsh reality, slowly begins to patch her rocky relationship with her family. Obviously she does this by reconnecting with Mum and Sister in a wordless family hip-hop routine in the living room.

Redeeming Qualities:
About that pesky little statutory rape scene: Technically speaking, sure, it is a criminal offense to "possess carnal knowledge of a minor." But get off your judgy-judge thrones and consider the grey areas here – current UK laws set the age of consent at 16, and Mia probably had a birthday coming up anyway. Also, she's way less slutty than her mum. Is it so wrong for her to seek attention from the one person who has ever taken a real interest in her well-being? Plus, historically speaking, the age of consent in the UK was once as young as age 10, so I'm pretty sure BF is off the hook here.

This little indie gem just happened to win Jury Prize at Cannes in 2009 and the BAFTA for Best British Film, so you know it's legit. Despite the rough exterior, at its heart it is an uncomfortably sweet coming-of-age film about family, trust, and maturing in the midst of adversity. Writer director (and probable awkward teen herself) Andrea Arnold artfully uses dance, music and sexuality to capture with painful authenticity the universally familiar period of pubescence that we'd all like to forget. Plus, I'm pretty sure Michael Fassbender has starred in far racier films.

Watch it with a Group, Watch it Alone, or Skip It:
Watch it with a Group

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