Redden’s review published on Letterboxd:
Oh my god, this movie was way trashier then I was anticipating right from the first lines of dialogue between the kids and one of the adults. But, it was the kind of trashy that felt grounded in realism in how the film portrays the living environments of these kids and how their parents raised them. I also like how adventurous the film felt from the kids’ perspective in how their day to day life is portrayed with the tour attractions of Florida as the backdrop only elevating this sense of adventure and child wonderment in a trashy environment. That said, this film does delve into the darker side of living in this kind of trashy environment and I think the film found a way to show that without tonally clashing with the more fun parts of the film except for a couple of plot points (more on that later).
Willem Dafoe gives one of my favorite performances of his and his Oscar Nomination for this film was super deserved. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Sam Rockwell being nominated in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I would probably say that Willem Dafoe should’ve won for this film that year.
As far as problems go, the pacing wasn’t super consistent throughout and I think trimming the film down by 10-20 minutes really could’ve helped since this felt like a film that should’ve been 90 minutes being prolonged to a 2hr length.
Another problem, as I said before, is with some of the plot points taking me out of the film and that does require me to talk about spoilery stuff, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, skip past the bolded text below.
So there’s a point in the film where the Moonee and her friends set a condo complex on fire and the mother of one of Moonee’s friends who is friends with Moonee’s mother finds out what they did and cuts ties with Moonee’s mother and doesn’t allow Moonee’s friend to be around Moonee anymore. My issue with this particular part is that Roonee’s mother’s friend never tells her about how their kids set the condo on fire and how they need to be more responsible with keeping up with their kid’s whereabouts. Instead, she just cuts ties with Moonee’s mother without explaining anything to her and I felt like it lead to conflicts in the film that could’ve been totally preventable if they just talked to each other. I feel like not telling Roonee’s mother this information and going as far as actively refusing to talk to Roonee’s mother about their kids setting the condo on fire when she asks what’s going on felt really dumb in a way that didn’t make sense within the context of the film. I get that Roonee’s mother is not a responsible adult at all, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk sense into her and give her a reality check or anything. It’s not like she was ever presented as being so far gone that she can’t be helped or reasoned with or anything.
Another plot point that adds onto this conflict is that Moonee’s mother loses her job, loses her family assistance benefits as a result and is no longer able to provide for her child financially because she can’t get a job. It gets to a point where Roonee’s mother now has to prostitute herself to make income and other residents finds out, including her friend who cut ties with her. So when Roonee’s mother tries to talk to her friend about trying to be friends again and her friend decides to call her out on her prostituting herself. The issue that I have with how that plot point is handled is that she just shits on her for prostituting herself when she’s only doing it because she has no other means making income rather than offering to help her out of that situation and actually be there for her as a friend. It be one thing if the film presented this as Roonee’s mother’s friend being a terrible friend who is aware of what she’s doing and, yet, is actively choosing not to help out someone she considered a friend out a situation as desperate of a last resort as that. But the thing is that the film, instead, chooses to present that as if Roonee’s friend is doing nothing wrong here without giving a very strong justification for why Roonee’s mother’s friend is choosing to do this and I just don’t think that scene makes any sense in the context of the film without that justification being there. If that justification was presented in the film, I also would’ve been fine with the scene as it was, but since the film doesn’t have that, it just takes me out of the film and ends up becoming a frustrating plot point in the film in a way that could’ve been easily avoidable.
The last issue that I have with this film is that the ending is so terribly edited, filmed and kind of out of nowhere. Now, I get that they had to film and edit it that way cause Disney obviously wouldn’t be okay with a film like this being filmed at Disney World and they wanted to film at Disney World, but the transition between the moment that proceeded that to the moment where Roonee and her friend run away to Disney World is so jarring and looks really bad. Not only that, but I also think the film didn’t need to end with Disney World anyways since the film would’ve worked better without it even if the ending did have a point in the film’s theme of child wonderment.
In spite of my problems with this film, I still thought this film was pretty great overall and definitely one of my favorites of the decade.
Decent To Strong 8/10