01/11/2010 08:56 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Movie review: Fish Tank

I recently overheard a fellow critic comparing Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank to Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy - and had to demur, because Fish Tank is actually a movie with a plot and emotional resonance.

Seeing Fish Tank (which opens in limited release Friday 1/15/10) and then watching a couple of upcoming Sundance films that are as aimless and thin as Wendy and Lucy may inspire me to write a future commentary about why people make movies about directionless lives on a downward spiral - what is it that makes them think that anyone wants to watch stories about clueless, helpless people with no future and no hope?

Yet Fish Tank overcomes that, thanks to the immediacy of Arnold's filmmaking and the jittery vitality of the central performance by a young actress named Katie Jarvis.

Jarvis plays Mia, a 15-year-old British teen who essentially lives a life unsupervised by her party-girl mother (Kierston Wareing), whose only mothering consists of snarling at Mia and her younger sister, Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths), a foul-mouthed moppet.

Mia has few friends and tries to spend as little time as possible in the housing-project apartment where her family lives. Instead, she hangs out in an abandoned apartment, where she practices to be a hip-hop dancer, though her former friends (who practice hip-hop routines together) now treat her as an outcast.

The events of Fish Tank are minimal in some ways, huge in others.

This review continues on my website.