Fish Tank (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
When Joanne (Kierston Wareing) brought home Connor (Michael Fassbender), a new boyfriend, Mia (Katie Jarvis), a troubled fifteen-year-old, was immediately infatuated with him, and he with her. The two tried not to act on their desires for obvious reasons but how long could they resist when the small apartment required them to be constantly within reach? Written and directed by Andrea Arnold, “Fish Tank” was a coming-of-age film with a keen eye on characterization and telling truths that might be difficult to sit on. Specifically, how unpredictable a teenage mind could be and the lengths it would go to get its desires. Mia was tough, unafraid to stand her ground against a group of girls but, like most teenagers, she was lonely. Even when she was at home, she found no peace of mind. Joanne saw Mia’s youth as both threatening and a reminder that she was no longer the young party girl she once was. Due to Joanne’s lack of effective parenting, it seemed like Mia’s sister, Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths), was well on her way to becoming a troubled teenager as well. Barely ten years of age, she smoked and drank with her friends. Her role models were the scantily-clothed women on television. I found it interesting that when Joanne and Mia occupied the same room, it was always one person facing another’s back and they avoided to make eye contact. They lived in the same apartment and shared the same bloodline but they were essentially roommates who didn’t get along. But the director avoided to judge the way these people lived. Like quietly staring in a fish tank, we just observed them and the way they reacted to the rhythms of every day. I admired the fact the film’s focus wasn’t about whether it was right or wrong for Mia and Connor to engage in sexual activity. What mattered what how Mia felt around him. She was happy and flattered that someone took a genuine interest in her talent for dancing. He was a father figure that she didn’t really know, or wasn’t willing to accept, she needed. Fassbender gave his character depth. Instead of portraying a creepy predator, he was a friend. The complexity of their relationship was what kept me wanting to know what would happen next. The film took pride in delivering the unpredictable. When Mia made friends with a boy (Harry Treadaway) interested in car mechanics, it was easy to assume that she would use him to make Connor jealous. That wasn’t the case. “Fish Tank” could easily have been about an angry girl who lived in a poor neighborhood and how she eventually willed herself to escape her horrid upbringing. There was none of the usual life lessons about overcoming poverty. I felt the director’s utmost respect for her subjects by allowing them to be their imperfect selves up until the very end. Best of all, Arnold’s direction successfully led us to an invisible part of Britain and made it more visible.
★★ / ★★★★
Russ (Tom Cullen) was a gay man with mostly straight friends. After attending his best friend’s party, Russ decided to go to a gay club with hopes of hooking up with a stranger. After attempting to make eye contact with several men as a signal he was willing, Russ eventually encountered Glen (Chris New). Morning came and the two engaged in their first real conversation over coffee. They liked each other enough and thought what they had was worth exploring. But, initially without Russ’ knowledge, Glen was supposed to head to Oregon after the weekend and live there for two years to study art. They now had to make a decision whether their one night stand was viable enough to turn into a relationship. Written and directed by Andrew Haigh, “Weekend” could easily, even understandably, appeal to those craving for realistic stories about gay lifestyles. There’s just not that many of them. Great ones are rarer still. The casting was good given that neither looked like a chiseled Adonis. In fact, their appeal was in embedded in the ordinariness of their looks. In return, we were forced to look within–their personalities, motivations, and perception of the world. Given that neither looked like a steroid-obsessed, stereotypically dominant beefcake or a stick-skinny twink, the sex scenes, mostly unnecessary, held a certain honesty: the unshaven corners, fat hanging about the torso, and wrinkles unhidden by make-up. Having the camera so up close to their bodies and faces, we could easily get the sense that the two had just had sex. Like in reality, the morning after is usually far from glamorous. Most of the time, you just want to jump in the shower to wash the night away. However, despite my best efforts, I felt no spark between Russ and Glen. It was critical because they were supposed to be increasingly attracted to one another over the course of the film. The reasons why they wanted to take their relationship on another level weren’t at all clear. Glen was condescending to Russ. He was repulsed by the fact that Russ didn’t like to kiss or hold hands in public as heterosexual couples generously often do. Because of this, he was convinced that Russ was not comfortable with being a homosexual. I was extremely annoyed with what he represented because he felt it was his prerogative as an out and proud gay man to constantly remind people that he was gay. To him, being ostentatiously gay was tantamount to being comfortable with his sexuality. No, it’s not. It means you’re being obnoxious. In the end, Russ subtly accepts that ideology. The supposedly sweet ending left a bitter taste on my lips. It sends the wrong message to audiences, especially to LGBT youths who are still deciding how they want to live their lives. Furthermore, the constant usage of drugs was an issue I had due to its mixed messages. I found it ironic that the two men were supposed to be connecting with one another through sex and deep conversation while snorting cocaine and smoking marijuana. How can you really get to know someone while being under the influence? All the discordant factors and hypocritical implications made me feel angry. While I understood Russ’ loneliness and the dangerous lengths he would go to assuage that emotion, the rest lacked practicality. It’s a shame because I do have friends like Russ who engage in casual sex with strangers and experiment with all sorts of drugs. The film implies that such a lifestyle is A-OK. It’s certainly not okay when you hear news that your friend has contracted HIV or died from overdose.