Overlooked: The Florida Project

Another year, another awards season snub

Overlooked: The Florida Project

Perhaps by now I should be used to the fact that some of the greatest films will go unappreciated by the Academy. However, this year, I could no longer sit idly by as another movie joined the ranks of undeserved Oscar snubs. The Florida Project does everything a great movie is supposed to do, but its contribution was unjustly overlooked at this year’s Academy Awards.

A dreamy visual experience that at least warranted a nomination for Best Cinematography, The Florida Project puts you in the shoes of Moonee, a six-year-old girl living in a rundown motel on the outskirts of Disney World with her young mother, who is in many ways a child herself. Moonee is mischievous, carefree, a bit of a brat, and part of a demographic in America known as the ‘hidden homeless’ — those who live in temporary housing and are often forgotten by society.

While Moonee’s situation may be heartbreaking to many, the film is not made to make you feel hopeless. Instead, it’s a celebration of childhood, friendship, and family — just not in a context that many of us have experienced.

But through the genius of writer and director Sean Baker, you almost feel like you’ve lived through what Moonee is experiencing. Baker fully immerses you into her world, one in which the adults loom over the camera and the sky is shot as a wide, open expanse. The world seems so vast from the perspective of a child, and, through Baker’s talent with the camera, that’s exactly how the viewer sees it.

Beyond the visual elements of the film, Baker also manages to blend perfect childhood innocence with the realities of poverty in America. Moonee plays in abandoned houses with her friends, which to them seem like a playground, but to us are yet more failed housing developments in post-recession America.

It’s little signs like these, the bittersweet notes that surface throughout the film, that give an indication of what lies just beyond the periphery of Moonee’s world. You come to love Moonee, with all her sass and charm, but you know what hardship lies in her future and in the futures of all the real children who live a life like hers.

Movies are made to take you out of your own life and open your eyes to the different lived experiences of others. When a film truly does its job, you come out of it as a changed person with a better understanding of a small part of the world.

A good movie makes you empathize, not just sympathize — The Florida Project succeeded in doing this in every way, and it doesn’t need an Academy Award to tell me that.

Overlooked is a recurring feature in the Arts & Culture section where writers make the case for pieces of culture that don’t get the attention they deserve. To contribute, email arts@thevarsity.ca.

Overlooked: Youth

The Chinese drama is an introspective look at the lives of youth during the Cultural Revolution

Overlooked: Youth

It was the ’70s: teenagers embraced bell bottoms, sunglasses, and love songs — all behind closed doors. In the newly established People’s Republic of China, the decade was not a period marked by hippie movements and music festivals but by tumultuous social reform and impending war.

The Chinese film Youth, directed by Feng Xiaogang, who is dubbed the ‘Steven Spielberg of China,’ premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. It debuted at North American theatres in mid-December, and while it found tremendous success with domestic Chinese audiences, it may have been perceived as too foreign for other viewers.

Youth follows the lives of two young dancers in the People’s Liberation Army dance troupe. Liu Feng, whose name mimics the Communist party martyr Lei Feng, performs acts of unhindered and naïve kindness in the hopes of fulfilling the prophecy of his name. He Xiaoping is an outcast who wishes to abandon her background and start anew by contributing to the army.

Despite their occasional and hidden experimentation with counterrevolutionary fashion and music, the dance team remains optimistic about the revolution and expresses their patriotism through dance. Their morale is short-lived, however, after the protagonists are sent to the frontlines of the Sino-Vietnamese War.

Without overemphasizing politically sensitive topics, Feng is able to portray the ups and downs of young adulthood in a devastating period for China. Accompanied by washes of sepia, each dance scene evokes feelings of nostalgia and romanticism. The protagonists have dedicated the peak of their life to their profession, and only through the fantasy of performance can they live out the hopeful dreams of their youth.

There is a change of tone toward the end of the film. Liu Feng, now a jobless veteran, finds himself standing in front of a red Coca-Cola billboard in the wake of China expanding its economy. The protagonists’ former teammates are now successful business owners abroad while they, the most dedicated of them all, struggle to make a living. Cold reality sets into the scene while Liu Feng and He Xiaoping reminisce — they have finally achieved martyrdom by sacrificing their idealism and youth to the revolution.

Youth is a melancholy story about the fragility of youth and the failures of a revolution meant to eliminate the elite. Though its execution does sometimes fall short with respect to its overly sentimental acting, it offers a different perspective on the coming-of-age genre. It’s certainly a breath of fresh air in Chinese cinema.

While the movie is strictly in Mandarin with English subtitles, the experience of youth is universal, and Youth should be seen by everyone.

Overlooked is a recurring feature in the Arts & Culture section where writers make the case for pieces of culture that don’t get the attention they deserve. To contribute, email arts@thevarsity.ca.

Overlooked: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Jane the Virgin

Alongside its staple of superhero shows, The CW network’s stronger series have gone under the radar

Overlooked: <i>Crazy Ex-Girlfriend</i>, <i>Jane the Virgin</i>

The merged successor to The WB and UPN, The CW is a joint venture between CBS and Warner Bros. Since its debut in 2006, the network has had its growing pains, but it was still at the forefront of the teen melodrama with shows such as Gossip Girl90210, and The Vampire Diaries.

In recent years, though, the network might as well have been known as the superhero show channel, home to DC comic adaptations including ArrowSupergirl, and The Flash. Yet aside from these anchors, in addition to the blockbuster Supernatural, the network’s lineup also currently includes a number of compelling series that are not getting the attention they deserve.

Every so often, there is a piece of pop culture that makes you feel truly seen. For me, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one such show. Its depiction of Jewish female anxiety is part of my favourite growing niche in media, alongside the hysterical Broad City, Amazon’s recent The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, as well as elements of other shows like Transparent and unREAL.

Co-creator Rachel Bloom, previously best-known for the viral YouTube parody song “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury,” is wonderful as Rebecca Bunch, a New York corporate lawyer who moves to West Covina, California in pursuit of a former summer camp fling. Rebecca’s delusional pursuit of happiness, in the form of Josh Chan, is initially both cringe-worthy and riveting, but the viewer soon begins to feel real empathy for the show’s clearly damaged protagonist.

Despite being a critical darling, CXG is one of the lowest-rated shows on television, having taken the bottom spot in fall rankings for each of the three years it’s been on the air. The show is simply not reaching enough people — a true shame, since it includes a brilliant ensemble cast, clever musical numbers, and one of the best portrayals of mental illness on television.

CXG effortlessly moves between genres to pursue its ultimate goal: a deconstruction of the societal norms of romance. I could write essays on its use of musical parodies, but instead I will direct you to a couple of my recent favorites: “Let’s Have Intercourse,” a pitch-perfect Ed Sheeran mockery, and “The End of the Movie,” which warns against treating your life as a straightforward narrative — with the use of a killer cameo. To say nothing of classics like “Friendtopia,” “Fit Hot Guys Have Problems Too,” and “Let’s Generalize About Men.”

Not far ahead of CXG in the ratings is Jane the Virgin, my go-to recommendation anytime someone asks me what they should watch next.

Jane the Virgin begins with a ridiculous premise — literally ‘straight out of a telenovela’ — as Jane, who planned on waiting until marriage to have sex, is accidentally artificially inseminated.

Despite this absurd starting point, I haven’t seen anything else on TV that can compare in terms of heart. The show’s quirks, such as its omniscient narrator known as the Latin Lover and its tendency to indulge in plot twists like evil twins and child kidnappings, belie its core: a smart and often touching portrayal of love, life, and family.

I haven’t even mentioned the post-apocalyptic drama The 100, or Riverdale, the show we are all growing to love to hate. Suffice it to say that treating The CW as solely the domain of Greg Berlanti is both an incorrect assumption and one that’s a shame. Behind the archery, capes, and lightning bolts are a handful of series that are well worth the watch.

Overlooked is a recurring feature in the Arts & Culture section where writers make the case for pieces of culture that don’t get the attention they deserve. To contribute, email arts@thevarsity.ca.