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Not Another Teen Movie

Not Another Teen Movie (photo)

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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” (her second picture after the impressive “Red Road”) — 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.

01212010_FishTank5.jpgShe’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 actually made me laugh out loud from its easy honesty — a pre-teen girl casually declaring her sister the c-word, my goodness), 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 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 terrible mother.

01212010_FishTank3.jpgThat’s blonde sexpot and perpetual loser Joanne (Kierston Wareing), a young mother who drinks too much, screams at her little girls too much, and leaves them to their own devices. They imbibe, they smoke, they swear – she seems oblivious to it all. Home is one long bitchfest, with mom and little sis, Tyler (an impressive Rebecca Griffiths), so Mia finds escape in a lonely apartment building, drinking and hip hop dancing to rap music.

The household dynamic changes significantly when Mom gets a new boyfriend. That’s the handsome, charming Connor (an extraordinary Michael Fassbender), who cares more about the girls than Mom does. He takes them fishing, he carries them to bed, and he encourages Mia’s dancing, even introducing her to the sounds of James Brown and most especially Bobby Womack’s gorgeously heart-rending version of “California Dreamin'” (he has good taste), and letting her borrow a video camera to record one of her routines. He also finds himself attracted to her, but you’re not certain at first. Mia is clearly smitten with Connor, and as she watches him make love to her mother through a half-open door, she’s curious and probably jealous. This guy may be the only positive paternal influence she’s had, but it’s mixed up in heated sexual desire. She wants him. And, in a shocking, but bravely erotic scene, he wants her — and they do something about it.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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