A young woman stuck in a place she doesn’t want to be and struggling to get out is sometimes hard to watch. The reasons are varied depending on the character, but if the filmmaker does a good job it usually boils down to me identiying with the character. I feel like that young woman was me, just placed in a different place and at a different time. That is the feeling I get in this film.
Mia lives in a housing project on the outskirts of London. She loves to dance, listen to hip hop and is passionate about helpless things (like a horse being tied up.) She also has harsh opinions that get her into scraps and fights with the kids she is around and with her mom. One day a man walks in while she is emulating a dance on television. Just another boyfriend of her mother’s, this man speaks to her in a way that none of them ever have. She is instantly attracted to this man who seems to care about things. He has different experiences than what she is used to. He encourages her to pursue what she wants more than anything. She wants to dance. The attraction to him sometimes manifests itself in hatred of him and at other times wild jealousy. They become closer over a short period of time, until one night something happens.
I won’t give away the “twist” of a plot development, although if you did any reading on the film you would discover it imediately. Andrea Arnold, the director, does an excellent job of conveying how first love feels. I love the muting of the soundtrack and you hear the breathing of him as he carries her to the car after she hurts her foot or when he lies her in bed or when she is dancing for him. You can hear the faint quickening of breath that comes with excitement. She is discovering this sexuality at a time when a man is paying close attention to her and may even care for her. So obviously she wants him for herself. That is evident from their first encounter, and yet you hope and pray that she is smart enough to stay away. However you can’t control passion, especially teenage passion.
Katie Jarvis plays Mia with a strength and a earnestness that can only come from having been in similar situations socially and financially. In fact the famous story of this film is that Andrea Arnold discovered her while she was having an argument with her boyfriend while waiting for a train. Her accent and her gruff attitude hides an innate self consciousness that is hard to fake on screen. Michael Fassbender as the older man Mia falls in love with makes an interesting choice. Being who he is (one of the hottest men on the planet and one of the most talented actors working right now!! That’s right those are two exclamation points), he could have played the character a little bit more gruffer and obvious and still be immensely appealing. Yet he emulates the self consciousness that is inherent in Mia’s character. He doesn’t want to fall in love this woman who is criminally under age and inexperienced, but he just can’t help it. He tries to be a loving figure to these two children (MIa and her younger sister) that her mother seems incapable of being. The results of his efforts is not liking the mother anymore and falling for the daughter. You want him to just give in and hold her, but at the same time you don’t want him to ruin his life by committing this crime that the mother would obviously turn him in for.
Mia’s relationship with her mother is one of friction. They are constantly yelling at each other about Mia having an attitude. She even makes fun of her when she said she did it with her friend who is a boy. Throughout the whole film, you can barely tell that the mother cares anything for her. That is until the ending. I love the second to last scene in the film where Mia, her mother and her younger sister dance in a line together. It is something that may not seem very touching but it comes at such a moment in the film where you just want Mia to feel something and let out something about what she is feeling. Dancing is the only way she can truly communicate. In this dance she is saying that she cares for her mother and that she will miss her without actually saying anything. It is a small scene that packs an emotional wallop. That is why I like this film. Sometimes you just need to be emotional during a film. I am emotional thinking back on that great experience.