Jon Stewart has called Florida “America’s Wang,” and it does seem like the state’s strong peninsular properties somehow attract people who are on the end of their rope. In Florida Man, Sean Dunne’s endlessly quotable and surprisingly poignant documentary about worn-out and inebriated layabouts in the Sunshine State, the viewer meets a wide variety of beercan philosophers in the course of 50 minutes, many of whom have tales to tell, of the government’s economic dependence on the incarcerated, of the heady thrills of a lifetime of brawling, of the murderous tendencies of pill addicts, of the undeniable pleasures of an impromptu three-way underneath a pier on a beach.
I’m tempted to call this movie “the real Fight Club,” but that’s not right. It’s “Old Drunk Guy Parking Lot”—a majority of the footage was obtained outside various bars, motels, laundromats, and tattoo parlors, and certainly a majority of the interviewees, if not nearly all of them, have booze sloshing around their system. However, it’s hard to state anything equivocal beyond the two facts laid down in the title—it’s in Florida, and it’s about males. Not all of them are old, and not all of them are drunk. Taken together, however, there’s an unmistakable commonality among the worn-out old dudes who were willing to interact with Dunne and his crew. As one guy says, “When I moved here I was a damn Yankee. I got upgraded to redneck.” (Come to think of it, “Upgraded to Redneck” isn’t a bad alternate title for the movie.)
To his credit, Dunne had not much in the way of an agenda when he started the movie, letting serendipity dictate the content. As he says,
Basically we just drove around aimlessly, stopping any time we saw something or someone that interested us and one thing would lead to another and the universe would pull us in one direction or another. Most of what you’re seeing in the final film is the entirety of our interaction with these guys. It was quick and to the point and I didn’t even interview people besides the occasional “Any words of wisdom?” So what we got was a whole bunch of people telling stories and talking about whatever was on their mind. It was a strange and exciting journey that took us to a lot of places we didn’t expect.
This succession of cocksure, mostly unemployed or “retired” drifters or near-drifters may be the most resonant depiction of Florida since Errol Morris’s Vernon, Florida, with which it shares more than a little in terms of directorial strategy. I’m tempted to lard up this post with the hard-won wisdom the movie’s subjects spout. The fellow whose footage opens the movie is a dessicated George Carlin-looking cat with a handlebar mustache who just lives to tussle. “I love to make people bleed, I swear to God I do,” he says. “Once you get to Florida, you don’t ever want to go back north,” is the questionable premise of a superannuated barfly wearing a U.S. Navy trucker hat.
Moments after declaring, “I’m not a drunk,” an elderly African-American fellow jokes that “Ace Liquor Store over there” is “my second home.” In the next sequence the owner of the same store says, memorably, “Here in the liquor store, we see probably 50% of the people arrive by either foot or by bicycle, because they all have DUIs,” adding that most of his problem drinkers “eventually pass away. If you have a drinking problem, handle it.”
There’s much more, but it’s better experienced firsthand. If you have a hour to kill, you could do a lot worse than spending it with this hardy bunch of dipsomanaical survivors. Watch it below: