Sean K. Cureton

Archive for November, 2017|Monthly archive page

The Florida Project: Just Outside the Greatest Place On Earth

In Movie Reviews: 2017 on November 25, 2017 at 11:59 am
The Florida Project


The Florida Project
Directed by Sean Baker
3 1/2 out of 4 stars

The Florida Project offers as unique a glimpse into the life of low-income Americans in the 21st century as only writer-director Sean Baker could deliver. Coming off of the breakthrough success lauded onto his 2015 indie drama Tangerine, Baker has turned his attention from one maligned subculture to another. After following the winding lives of several transgender sex workers traversing the urban environs of Tinseltown on Christmas Eve, The Florida Project offers a vibrantly colored parable on the plights of those living in the shadow of commercial largesse in Orlando, Florida. Focusing in on an unconventional assemblage of residents living out of an economy motel, The Florida Project offers a unique point of view from which to watch its characters, namely that of child actor and star Brooklynn Prince. Rather than seeing all the ways in which her purple colored abode are lacking, Brooklynn frolics in a paradise of her own imagining that rivals the real world splendor of Walt Disney World.

Playing the role of her mother is untrained actor Bria Vinaite, a spritely youth whose impoverished lifestyle is worn more like a badge of honor than an albatross. Rounding out the nuclear unit is celebrated Hollywood star Willem Dafoe, who plays the part of the put-upon motel manager who single-handedly protects his residents from further destitution, often to his own professional and personal detriment. The ways in which Brooklynn Prince discovers small delights and wonders scattered across the landscape of the larger Orlando, Florida area offers a unique representation of the various landmarks and tourist traps that might otherwise beleaguer the spirits of its older residents. Instead of seeing the gross gap of income inequality that is perversely laid bare in the difference between the residents of Dafoe‘s garish purple castle and the moneyed tourists who determinedly turn a blind eye to its suffering indigenous population, Brooklynn finds Neverland within the same environment. Much like Beasts of the Southern Wild did for the Louisiana Bayou, The Florida Project recasts the legacy of another American territory against the realm of myth and fantasy.

Paying special attention to the many grotesqueries of Florida’s commercial real estate, Baker toys with how viewers might otherwise approach a cinematic world that is marked by tragedy, turmoil, and violence. Lacking any formal education, Bria Vinaite is a creature shaped entirely by circumstance in Baker‘s film. But rather than wallow in what many might see as a sorry existence, Vinaite thrives on the fringe of prim propriety. Yet whenever she does so, it’s hard to come away from any of her encounters with the film’s other characters with an even an ounce of malice towards her uncouth behavior. Except the dream that Vinaite has established for herself and her young child frequently bleeds into the realm of nightmare.

During a particularly volatile arc of the film’s script, Neverland is lost to the surrounding harsh reality of 21st century American poverty. In the midst of a confrontation with her best friend and neighbor, Vinaite lashes out in violence against a facile domestic ideal that irrevocably begins to crumble soon thereafter. During the film’s climactic final sequence that sees Brooklynn seeking out the cold comfort of Walt Disney World just as the surreality of childhood begins to lose its hold on her imagination, there is a tenderness to the kind of tragedy that is being depicted. The visual and ethical tenacity with which Baker represents the world of The Florida Project is astounding, and newcomers Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite shine right alongside Hollywood actor Willem Dafoe in one of the greatest films of the year. The paradise that is lost over the course of the film’s trim 110 minute runtime is one that many of us may remember fondly from childhood; only in The Florida Project, the wild flights of fantasy feel even more precious and irreplaceable considering the real world that their creator will soon inherit.

This review is an abridged version of an article that was originally published by Film Inquiry.


Donald Cried: The Adolescent Sisyphus

In Movies on VOD: Recommendation of the Week on November 18, 2017 at 12:41 pm
Donald Cried

The Orchard

Donald Cried (2017)
Directed by Kris Avedisian
VOD Rating: Really Liked It

Following its premiere at South by Southwest in 2016, Donald Cried saw theatrical release earlier this year. Serving as the directorial debut of lead actor and screenwriter Kris Avedisian, Donald Cried is an unsettling dark comedy about fraternal friendship. Centering around the story of a frazzled man returning to his childhood home when his grandmother dies only to find himself beset upon by a troubled acquaintance that he soon becomes indebted to, Donald Cried boldly walks the fine line between comedy and tragedy. When Peter LaTang (Jesse Wakeman) returns to his old stomping grounds to take care of his deceased grandmother’s affairs, he soon discovers that he left his wallet at the train station. Lacking any other resources by which he might get around town before heading back to his adult life as a big city banker, he begrudgingly surrenders to the myopic whim of Donald (Avedisian).

Over the course of the film’s trim 85-minute runtime, Donald Cried tactfully manages to navigate the tumultuous waters of trying to rekindle a friendship forged by one’s own former naïve self. And as anyone who has ever considered becoming friends again with someone that they went to high school with but haven’t seen or spoken to in several years can attest to, the scenario proves to offer a more than familiar narrative bolstered by the specificity of Avedisian’s nostalgic nightmare. Sometimes the friends we make when we’re teenagers are nothing more than the most convenient options available when we’re still not cognizant of our respective selves. During a time in which one is expected to grow up and mature, high school camaraderie can quickly fade if it’s built upon little more than pop culture propagated as a shared personality. And in Donald Treebeck, Avedisian has crafted one of the most accurate portrayals of the surreal nature beholden to what is an inherently juvenile intimacy.

Unfortunately for the titular character in Donald Cried, heavy metal quickly comes to stand for a regressive signifier of a relationship built upon subversive enmity. On the flip side, Donald Cried is also a touching tribute to the people who never really left the confines of home after graduating from secondary – or higher – education. For those who never really found a place for themselves in the adult world, childhood becomes an ever-present state of being that sees some lost forever in a Sisyphean prison of codependent sycophancy. Avedisian as Donald thus acts as both a protagonist and an antagonist. His simpering demands upon the attention and affection of Peter (Wakeman) are both a repugnant deterrent and familiar plea to and for the viewer’s sympathies.

It’s easy to come away feeling a little unsure of what to think after watching Donald Cried for the first time. But upon repeated viewings, Avedisian’s first feature really shines a light on one of the more peculiar aspects of childhood and growing up. Who we were in high school continues to affect how we strive to present ourselves to others as an adult, the latter state of being a past that is often a painful reminder of formative experiences. Avedisian has merely pulled back the curtain on a secret shame that many of us know all too well, but are less than willing to welcome back into our lives. By giving that existential foreboding corporeal form, Donald Cried delivers one of the most unforgettable independent features this year, and it would be a real shame if nobody noticed.

Donald Cried is currently available on Netflix, and is My Movies On VOD: Recommendation of the Week. This review is an expanded version of an article that was originally published by Audiences Everywhere.