I must say, this one was tough.

Not that it wasn’t bad. Opposite, in fact: quite good. I can consider this in some ways a sort of neo-realism film, with the mix of trained actors and non-actors. It’s gritty, it’s intense, it’s tough.

Katie Jarvis plays Mia, a 15-year old girl who lives with her mom and younger sister in an apartment complex in a working class section of Essex. They argue constantly, often quite venomously: Mia and her mother, Mia and her sister Tyler (and, quite possibly, though never shown, the mother and Tyler). Mia’s a loner with no friends (she’s not in school), and is often neglected at times. There are very few connections she makes in the world: an ill horse that’s chained in a fenced off trailer yard, a young man who lives there, and Conner (Michael Fassbender) who dates Mia’s mother. Her other big connection is wanting to dance. She believes she dances well, but has no confidence: she often dances alone, in an empty apartment either in the same complex or elsewhere in Essex. She’ll dance for Conner, though that requires pulling several teeth out.

The relationship between Conner and Mia starts off rather timidly, but Mia finds an attraction to him beyond mere friendship or parental longing (it’s never established why Mia doesn’t have a father, but the dysfunction is evidently there without a father figure helping out). She leans comfortably on his back when Conner carries her back to the car on a fishing trip, she films him getting changed, and she gets quite comfortable around him with other people around too (she’s either pants less or jumps around him when other people are in the same vicinity as they are). Conner, meanwhile, takes it all and finds some attraction to her too. Trying to juggle two women seems hard, but Conner somehow manages to do so, though he’s experienced in that regard (the third act deals with the consequences of the payoff to Conner’s and Mia’s relationship, revealing Conner’s secret).

Jarvis is a real find. She was found by a casting agent of the director during an argument with her then boyfriend. Everything she does comes off naturally, probably because she might have experienced everything that the character Mia did, before and after the filming of the movie. She looks to have come from a working class family, broken at that, and at some point after filming and before her eighteenth birthday, she gave birth to a daughter. Life reflects art and vice versa, it would seem.

Her character at times is hard to be sympathetic about. We often feel for her situation and maybe hope that, in a better circumstance, she would have come up better. Then again, this is reality, both for Mia and for Katie Jarvis.

Outside of Michael Fassbender, I’m not sure who is a classically trained actor and who is a non-actor. The performances are spot-on and flawless. Like I mentioned in the beginning, this is gritty neo-realism at its finest. It’s tough to watch though, that I can say. It’s well worth it.

Note: I thought I saw a comparison made between this and Precious, which is understandable: young woman, tough upbringing, finding something to make life better. The resolutions are different, and I much prefer the ending of Fish Tank to Precious. There’s a greater hopefulness to it (even though things are still left unsaid between certain parties), while in Precious, you’re kind of left wondering “Well, she’s going to be dead in five years, so what now?” Fish Tank is strong enough on its own merits to stand out from Precious, so you’re not seeing the same movie twice.