Great lengths were taken during the production of Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank - a scummy, staunch British coming-of-age drama - to ensure absolute authenticity.
Scenes were shot chronologically, the actors unaware of their character's fate as the story progresses, and the film's lead, a 15 year-old wannabe dancer with a short fuse (played on screen by newcomer Katie Jarvis), was discovered by casting director Jill Trevellick on the streets of England in the midst of an apparently convincing argument with her boyfriend.
And it's this remarkably convincing and unabashed dedication to realism that - combined with the talents of its principal actors - gives Fish Tank its narrative spunk and uncomfortable veracity, which at times becomes too nihilistic even for me.
But the way in which Arnold keeps tricks to a minimum and takes the time to accentuate the pleasures of an afternoon car ride or the smell of her mom's boyfriend's cologne, she's able to get inside the disaffection and desires of her confounding and temperamental teen subject.
Living in a pinkish, boxy apartment with her sleazy, self-serving mother and a matured younger sister, Mia (Jarvis) escapes the harsh realities of lower-class England by dancing away to old-school American hip-hop and playfully prodding away at mom's frank and unpredictable boy toy (Michael Fassbender).
Proving his worth in art-houses and multiplexes alike (Hunger, Inglourious Basterds), Fassbender, who becomes quietly enamored with young Mia himself, turns in a textured and rich supporting role, concurrently becoming a father figure of sorts while still exuding a sense of inappropriateness and attachment beyond paternal mentoring.
And young Katie Jarvis - who even walks as if she's fed up with it - gives a dynamite, true-to-life performance as the always-present subject in this bleak, unforgiving and ostensibly futile drama that wavers significantly at points during the latter half before eventually re-righting the ship. Even when Mia crosses the line and becomes contemptuously vindictive, Arnold and Jarvis are quick to draw us back in and remind us of youthful arrogance and the elusiveness of life's even playing field.
Of course, the title Fish Tank refers to the enclosed world of Mia Williams, reduced to an onlooker and helpless dreamer of life out in the ocean. This is a film that sees our characters initially finding solace in listening to "California Dreamin" before finally and more appropriately settling on "Life's a Bitch." While it may seem like a tragic concession, it plays out more like a timely realization - our characters now unchained from their deluded optimism.