Fish Tankrecommended viewing

I’m a dancer, not a stripper!
Andrea Arnold
Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Collins, Rebecca Griffiths
The Setup: 
Lower-class British girl tries to make her way in the world.

My regular movie buddy and I have a little unintentional sub-series called “Girls In Trouble,” which includes films such as Somersault, Girl on the Train and Lilya 4Ever. Having nothing else in theaters we were terribly interested in, we settled on this, which was good, but exactly not the sort of thing most would make a special trip to see.

We are in a lower-class British neighborhood, home to these housing projects, where our main character, Mia, lives. She comes upon five girls practicing their music-video dances in the common area, and has a fight with one of them, who it seems until recently was her friend. She sees an emaciated white horse being kept in a field, and tries to free it. She goes home, where she meets her mother, who dresses as though she were about the same age as Mia. They have music videos playing on the television. Mia gets a huge bottle of beer and breaks into an abandoned apartment, where she puts on music and practices her music video dancing. By the way, Mia is very rowdy, half of her dialogue is yelled, and she looks like a white trash Sporty Spice.

After another attempt to free the horse, during which she gets caught and narrowly escapes being attacked, she goes home and meets her mom’s cute new boyfriend, Connor. Later, her mom is having a party and has made it clear she wants her kids nowhere near. Mia snoops in her mom’s bedroom, falls asleep, and is later taken back to her own room by Connor, who undresses her. The next day Connor takes all of them for a ride in the country, including Mia’s younger sister, Tyler. Mother and her two daughters all seem slightly in love with the fun, kind, handsome Connor. Mia overhears that she’ll be sent to a boarding school for problem girls, runs out, and finds a flyer advertising for female dancers. She has become close and flirty with Connor by now, and he lends her his camcorder to make her audition video. She makes it and sends it in.

Mia makes another attempt to free the horse, and ends up meeting one of the guys there, who tells her the horse isn’t mistreated, just old. They strike up a friendship. When Mia returns home that night, her mother is passed out drunk, and Connor downstairs. He asks her to do her dance routine for him. Soon they have sex, which lasts all of 30 seconds, and he’s a little freaked out by what’s happened. Besides, Mia is only 15! The next day, he’s gone, and Mia’s mother is beside herself--he was only the latest in a string of boyfriend which she hoped would be “the one.” By now we’ve noticed that every now and then an absolutely gorgeous shot pops up on screen.

Now, I know we’re in the spoilers, but here’s where some stuff happens that is truly unforeseen, and if you want to see the movie, I would advise you to skip past the spoilers now.

Mia walks all the way to the next town over and finds Connor’s house. He answers the door and immediately spirits her away from the house—never a good sign. He takes her back to the train station—but she doesn’t go, she walks right back to his house, to find them gone. So she does what any of us might, and breaks in. While snooping, she finds a camcorder, and on it, footage of his wife and little daughter. So she again takes the rational course, and urinates on the living room carpet. Then they come home, and she gets out the back door. She is hanging out a few doors down as they daughter skates back and forth by her on a scooter. You’re just sitting there waiting for her to shove the girl over, but she doesn’t! Instead, she tells her she’s a friend of her mom’s, and starts leading the girl off into the woods. They end up by an industrial shore of nasty brown water, and you just know that little girl’s going in the drink, while simultaneously saying “Wow, this is like An Education meets Julia!” And you know what? I’m not going to tell you any more.

It was fairly slight, but very good. Ultimately it’s just kind of a portrait of life in the British lower class and where society is right now that would bring them to this place. It’s the kind of thing you might not rush out specifically to see, but wouldn’t be sorry if you did see. There are glaringly obvious touches—Mia wants to free the white horse! [and we haven’t even mentioned the single balloon floating into the sky away from the housing project]—but there are also subtle touches and periodic gorgeous shots. What lingers most and seems most poignant for me is the widespread focus on practicing for one’s big shot as a music video dancer. That seems to be the ambition of virtually all the girls in the housing project—and even Mia’s mom—and one can’t help but note what a foolish ambition it is. To aspire to achieve that moment where you get to strut your stuff and strangers watching television will see and notice you for a moment, perhaps someone, even a stranger, will think there’s something special about you. Never mind that this is a career that will be over at the age of 25, if you’re lucky. With this one must also note that the possibilities of educating oneself or learning a skill of some kind is never considered—after all, that might require reading books and perhaps even full minutes of quiet study, which is out of the question.

Anyway, a nice little movie about a girl in trouble and the state of society that bred her. If you see it, you probably won’t be sorry.

Should you watch it: 

You can skip it, but if you see it you’ll probably find it worthwhile.