Aggregate Films, 2023
📷 : Used with permission, Netflix
Movies and TV shows that make you laugh or involve physical activities like dance and exercise
Movies and TV shows with a springtime feel or with images of the season
My guitar teacher talks a lot about the importance of gradually building the music during a performance, especially when you are a solo act playing acoustic guitar. Start a song off deliberately, for example, with simple Travis picking, build it to a light strum maybe adding a 4th to a couple of the main chords, and move into the end with a serious strum that puts all these together and gets people moving – or at least their heads shaking to the rhythm. The new Netflix mini-series, Florida Man, brings this to mind. What is interesting about the 7-episode series is rather than laying out maybe two or three main plots in the first few episodes, it develops several parallel plotlines as the story moves along. While each seems random to some degree, once converged, they fit the characters and existing storylines like a glove.
Florida Man stars Edgar Ramirez (Yes Day, Gold) as Mike Valentine, a reluctant and unconventional mobster. In contrast to portrayals of gangsters where underlings do as they are told and go about their “business” donned in slacks, polos, and suits, Mike frequently argues with his boss and dresses in jeans and a casual untucked print collared shirt. He also hates Florida, a place where gangsters are rumored to retire, describing it as “[the place] that provided [him] with the opportunity to leave, and [he’s] not going back.” Originally “employed” by his boss’s late father, Mike wants out but Moss Yankov, who now heads the Philadelphia-based “family business,” refuses to let him go.
In the absence of an emotional connection with Moss, who is also her fiancée, Delly West becomes close with Mike, as he drives her around town to nightspots and on coffee runs. One morning, Moss awakens to find her gone. She has taken the BMW he gave to her the night before and is heading towards Florida. Moss, played by Emory Cohen (Lords of Chaos, The OA), orders Mike to go to Florida to bring her back.
Begrudgingly, Mike makes the trip and reunites with his family, which includes his seemingly well-grounded sister, Patsy, played by Otmara Marrero (Clementine, Yoshua), who he is very close to, and his father, Sonny, who he is not. At this juncture, the show peels back the layers of Mike’s disdain for Florida, suggesting that something is amiss between him and his father, played by Anthony LaPaglia (Without a Trace, Halifax: Retribution). But this is only a teaser, as the source of this tension still has not been revealed.
Meanwhile, Deputy Ketcher is a detective on vacation with his family in Florida. He lost his gun somewhere in transit, and he is feeling uncomfortable without one. Frustrated at his difficulties buying a replacement at a firearms store, Deputy Ketcher, played by Clark Gregg (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers), rants, “This is Florida. The g**damn state is shaped like one. I can’t go to a mailbox without tripping over 3 of ‘em, but God forbid you sell me one.” Desperate, he buys one illegally, adding another seemingly disconnected but hilarious plotline to the story.
Upon finding Delly, Mike observes her faking her own death, which makes Florida’s television news. When he confronts her, he learns that she is in pursuit of a large cache of gold, one that Moss talked about incessantly but still believed to be a myth. Mike is hooked both on Delly’s quest and Delly herself, so much so that he lies to Moss about Delly’s fate – adding more layers to the plotline. Moss is so heartbroken, he even holds a repast for Delly at his home in Philadelphia, where Tyrone Davis’s 1970 R&B hit, “Turn Back the Hands of Time,” is heard playing in the background at the all-White gathering.
Things become complicated when Delly, played by Abbey Lee (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Tower), grows impatient and invites Sonny to help in searching for and recovering the treasure. However, Sonny, who is the retired chief of police in town, turns out to be a bit unsavory and develops his own plans. All of this is occurring while the FBI is investigating a gangland style murder, which they believe was committed by Moss’s crew in Philadelphia. They need Mike and/or Delly’s help to make their case. But they, like Moss, bought the news that Delly is dead, and they cannot seem to locate Mike – whose ex-wife is one of the investigators. To sum, the numerous and parallel plotlines and characters culminate in a fun and entertaining story.
Florida Man brings to mind the 1984 film, Against All Odds. Besides a terrific soundtrack by Phil Collins, the movie stars Jeff Bridges as Terry Brogan, an injured and broke former professional football player who owes favors to Jake Wise, a shady nightclub owner played by James Woods. Jessie Wyler is Jake’s girlfriend played by Rachel Ward. When she leaves Jake and heads to South America, Jake forces Terry to go find her and bring her back. Terry finds her and the two fall in love. While the stories are nearly identical, the look, tone, and feel of Against All Odds and Florida Man differ dramatically. The former is heavy and dark with adult themes, violence, and menacing characters. The latter, on the other hand, is colorful and light. While it has adult themes, they are not presented in scary and intimidating ways. Even the violence in Florida Man is tough to take seriously because it is embedded in such hilarity.
What I also like about this series is that Mike speaks in a Latino dialect, and his father and sister do not. That this is never highlighted nor explained in the series suggests the filmmakers, and perhaps Edgar Ramirez himself, insisted on bringing his ethnic identity to this role and proving that it can indeed be pulled off for this character. For the first half century of cinema, White actors played people of color using makeup and wigs to modify their appearance to resemble the groups they were portraying, or sadly, present caricatures of some others. No special makeup or dialect is used for Mike Valentine’s character in Florida Man. Ramirez brought his full authentic self to the role.
I wonder about the implications of this for actors in portraying characters of different racial and ethnic groups. Does this have the potential to work for or against making more on-screen roles available for people of color? This is something to ponder. But regardless of which side you come down on, Florida Man pulls this off without a hitch.