Monday, November 13, 2017

Johnny Danger Says Welcome

Sometimes a documentary dork has to settle for a fictional film.

If she's smart, she'll find one that might as well be a documentary (albeit one with Willem Dafoe in it), given the non-actors and alternately charming and wrenching subject matter: "The Florida Project."

I'd seen previews for it at the Criterion a couple of times, but had no intention of going back to see it until review after review began raving about what a masterpiece it was as an observational look at an under-represented demographic in, of all places, Florida.

Granted, my exposure to Florida is limited, with two vacations having taught me the little I know of the alligator (which, for the record, I ate while there) state. What sticks in my mind are little details: the Econo-Kill taxidermy shop, tiki bars and dancing to "Brick House" on New Year's Eve.

Telling, isn't it?

Tonight's film revolved around a trashy, unfit mother, a seedy lavender-colored hotel in the shadow of Disney World and a foul-mouthed 6-year old enjoying the myriad pleasures of childhood - spitting contests, setting things on fire, trying to find the end of a rainbow - despite those handicaps.

Like a documentary, it was often painful to watch. Midway through, I began questioning why I'd chosen a film that raised such difficult and hopeless scenarios.

What about all the teen-aged mothers too immature to properly parent their children? What about the no and low-income women who scrape by doing whatever they have to do to pay rent? What about children who see things daily that they can't possibly process?

And what about all the people who don't have a good-hearted motel manager like Dafoe's character to cut them slack when rent is late and chase potential pedophiles off the playground?

The movie's strength was in how compelling it was to watch - and not just the cinematography, which was absolutely gorgeous -given the way it was shot from the perspective of a kid who doesn't realize how dire her Mom's situation is or how lackluster her living situation might seem to others.

What was interesting to me was how differently the film was affecting me from the woman sitting a seat away. When mother and child go on a spending spree using money from selling stolen goods, the woman cheered them on, laughing at their extravagance, while all I could think about was that there were bound to be repercussions, so why be so foolish as to blow the cash? Rent's due weekly, you idiot.

Then when Social Services shows up to launch an investigation about Mom's parenting skills, the woman beside me began to cry, whereas I'm thinking, hallelujah, finally the child will get to drink something other than soda and not have to scam tourists with Mom anymore.

Which, I suppose, is a roundabout way of saying that "The Florida Project" affected me just as strongly as a documentary about a child in a grim situation would have and that's really saying something.

It's saying that Florida may be a sunny, colorful place for a vacation, but I wouldn't want to be raised there.

Duh. Documentary dorks don't do Disney World.

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