The Happiest Place on Earth?
Jim White (Roy Abramsohn), a father of two and husband of one, wakes up on his family’s last day of a Disney vacation. When he gets a phone call from work, he steps out on the balcony so as not to disturb his sleeping family. Unfortunately, the call is to inform him that he has lost his job. So much for “the happiest place on earth.” He naturally lies to his wife Emily (Elena Schuber) about who was on the phone, as anyone would to avoid ruining the memory of an entire week. Instead, he sucks it up, gathers everyone, and heads out to the park for one more day.
The first sign that something is wrong is on the little international faces of “It’s a Small World.” Some are grinning strangely, while others show fangs. He is no longer seeing things the way as before. Jim begins to sweat a little bit and occasionally start grabbing at his wife in ways usually done in the bedroom. After making eye contact with two French girls, about 15, he begins flirting with them, and they appear to flirt back. He focuses a little too much on their tight little shorts and bikini tops. He appears drunk at times, drawing awkward glances from his son Elliot (Jack Dalton) and daughter Sara (Katelynn Rodriguez).
A boy’s eyes turn fully black, like a shark. Princesses aren’t quite so “princess-ish. Paranoia sets in, and Jim feels the characters are following and haunting him. To take a break, they all hit the pool for a while. Wouldn’t you know it, but the two teen girls are there also. They seem to be everywhere, and everywhere seems to be nowhere safe, and Jim abandons all logic to just see where the magic – dark magic – might take him.
Escape from Tomorrow is wisely a black-and-white film shot “guerrilla style,” meaning director Randy Moore had no permission or release to film on Disney property, which included both the Florida and California locations. Must have been fun that for his first film, Moore and his cast posed as the same kind of family they portrayed, floating about the parks like anyone else who might have video cameras and a few extra people just in case. He was so worried about the “power of Disney” that he edited the film in South Korea, sending segments digitally back and forth to the states but keeping the guts of everything overseas.
Moore, who visited Disney often as a kid, and more often after his parents were divorcing, knows as well as anyone that you can literally be in the happiest place on earth, but it isn’t worth a dime if your mental health happens to be in the toilet. One of Jim’s twisted fantasies involves meeting a single mom who gets him into a bondage situation. Not impossible that this came from an active imagination with a divorced dad. Another involves wealthy Asian business men “hiring” a few of the princesses for their personal entertainment. Same goes there.
I assume the black and white, or what is more currently called “monochromatic” filming is to wash out the Disney colors, thus making things have a more sinister appearance. While it works exactly as it should, it sadly causes one of the teen targets of Jim’s infatuation to appear to have a very noticeable mustache. Likely it was really just a shadow, as would be expected in “The Sunshine State,” but it looks more like the girl needs a razor.
Although Escape from Tomorrow starts out both dramatic and comic, and equally well simultaneously, it eventually fades into not really knowing what to do with itself. Jim is dragged from the dwellings beneath the Epcot ball, more specifically known as Spaceship Earth, where videos of naked women are more interesting than the story itself. Some unexplained violence is thrown in, also appearing out of place and not all that interesting.
Abramsohn, who you may have seen on half a dozen episodes of Weeds, has enough of an “everyman” look to be convincing. Schuber, like her film hubby, has had dozens of one-shot appearances on shows ranging from American Horror Story to General Hospital. She is more interesting to watch than anything else because of how quickly she goes from a pretty smile to pained disgust in her delusional husband.
Escape from Tomorrow is a little avante-garde, theatre of the absurd, and theatre of the wing it. What is it NOT, is worthy of a 90-minute feature film. It was my most anticipated film at this year's Ebertfest, but I was more than just a little disappointed. A heavier edit might have cut it down to 40 minutes and a heavy favorite for a short film Oscar. It played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival but came away with nothing more than a rather interesting – some call misleading – movie poster. What I call misleading is all the love most critics have been showing it. It's scheduled to open October 11, but I'm sure there is a better way to spend 90 minutes.
Teacher gives it a C-.