If “X-Men: First Class” becomes as big of a hit as the critics think it should be (it currently stands at 87% on Rotten Tomatoes), then you will most definitely want to be familiar with the name Michael Fassbender. As Magneto, he will get mainstream recognition. However, if you really want to sound like a film connoisseur, drop this in a conversation: “Oh, he was fine in ‘X-Men,’ but I really liked his earlier work in independent film.”
I’ve already covered one of Fassbender’s independent efforts, “Hunger,” which is a grueling experience ultimately made worthwhile and watchable by his incredibly committed performance. However, a much more stomachable way to get acquainted with his lesser-known films to watch my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank.” It’s a rich, deep movie that is a real treat to dig into.
Newcomer Katie Jarvis stars as Mia, a troubled teen growing up in Britain’s public housing with her much younger sister Tyler and her alcoholic single mother who pays her virtually no attention. She longs for independence, for attention, and ultimately for escape. Mia finds the latter in hip-hop dancing, which she only does in isolation.
But things change some when her mother brings home Connor (Fassbender), a charming Irishman who actually shows interest in her. He manages to get Mia to put aside her loathing of family outings to go the countryside and encourages her to pursue her passion in dancing. Their relationship becomes the focal point of the film, and its ups and downs will forever change Mia and her outlook on life.
Powerful performances from Fassbender and Jarvis make “Fish Tank” more than just your average teen angst movie; they make it relevant, personal, and authentic. The latter is especially true for Jarvis, who was cast in the movie with no professional experience after a casting director saw her arguing with a boyfriend in a train station. But it’s Arnold who makes the movie artful and resonant through her combination of solid writing and directing. The film is packed with symbols, motifs, and ideas that float around in your head for days and make “Fish Tank” a movie you won’t soon forget.
(By the way, if you are wondering where on earth you can find this independent gem, look no further than Netflix instant streaming.)