It’s tough being a teenage girl. Especially when enduring and hopefully, when you can, enjoying, that breakthrough age of 15. A lot happens when you’re 15. Though some girls float through adolescence with a winsome (or conceited) confide...
It’s tough being a teenage girl. Especially when enduring and hopefully, when you can, enjoying, that breakthrough age of 15. A lot happens when you’re 15. Though some girls float through adolescence with a winsome (or conceited) confidence — soaking in and gaining assurance from their protected status as daddy’s little princesses; or benefiting from strong, supportive mothers, those not blessed with such luxuries — and having two parents like that is a luxury; it shouldn’t be, but it is — find themselves stomping and scraping and screaming through youth with a special kind of Napoleon complex that only female teens and Joe Pesci possess.
Teenage girls, from intelligent young lasses rolling their eyes through AP English to those rampaging their way through baby burlesque episodes of Maury Povich, are constantly enduring life’s “Get your shine-box” indignities — even if they can’t properly articulate what those indignities are. They just know they don’t like them. As in, they don’t like how you’re eye-balling them. They don’t like your passive-aggressive insulting missives. They don’t like your aggressive-aggressive insulting missives. And they especially don’t like your fucking tone. “You don’t know me! You don’t know me!” they proclaim, pugnaciously echoing the query: “Am I here to amuse you?”
Such is the case with 15-year-old Mia (Katie Jarvis) in Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank (2009) — a rough, yet sensitive kitchen sink drama that finds our young heroine stuck in the British projects, clomping through its ugliness with a touching mixture of righteous indignation and moist-eyed vulnerability.
She’s 15, so playing tough girl is still a form of playing. She and her little sister exchange pleasantries like “fuck face” and “cunt bucket” (which made me laugh out loud from its easy honesty), and yet she’s not playing: Mia’s surroundings are making her grow up, harder and faster and with an enormous chip on her shoulder. She has little power in the world save for her youth and vigor and spunk and, as is often the case with teenage girls, her blossoming sexuality — a beautiful thing and yet something that will cause confusion and pain. When a group of guys roughhouse Mia, grabbing and holding her with the intent of possible violation, she kicks and screams and valiantly runs away. It’s a wonderful scene watching Mia refuse to be victimized, but then the shot of her fleeing so quickly and breathing so hard reveals her fear — and that’s both sad and supremely touching. She’s still a kid. And again, it’s damn hard for a teenage girl.
A lone wolf, Mia is clearly intelligent, but probably doesn’t know just how smart she is. When watching a small group of scantily clad teen girls engaging in an overtly sexual dance routine, she looks at their attempts to emulate the Beyoncé, Britney, Christina, Pussycat Doll ideal with bemused disgust. To Mia, this isn’t dancing and she informs the belly-pierced clan flat-out: they suck. It’s a telling moment that Mia, who loves to dance, would not only hold some standards regarding their rehearsal, but be both threatened and maybe even repulsed by the girl’s sexual movements. This kind of overt sexuality is going to serve an important, thrilling, but frequently annoying role in her life, and especially with her dreams of dancing (as a later scene in a strip club will show). You get the sense that this is all washing over her as she observes the girls, and so after they charge back at her with that patent and tired insult between girls (she’s ugly), Mia pulls out the Pesci and head-butts one of them.
In another movie, this moment might inspire an “Oh, hell yes!” with the audience. But Arnold isn’t that simplistic. It’s a funny and scary moment, but also a little tragic — especially when we see where some of this aggression and abuse has come from — her angry-sad-eyed but ultimately sympathetic mother.
That’s blonde, weathered sexpot Joanne (Kierston Wareing), a young mother w