STORY: Krystal Stubbs (Kirsten Dunst) is a new mother to baby girl Destiny. Her recovered alcoholic husband Travis (Alexander Skarsgård) is now obsessing over work and life’s good. Soon, tragedy befalls and Krystal is out in the open, fighting the big, bad world and the pyramid scheme that crippled her life in the first place.
REVIEW: In her prime, Krystal was a beauty queen (Miss Zumber?) and still has the spunk of a diva who isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade and put people in their places should the situation demand it. But now, she is a mid-level employee at a decaying water park, Rebel Rapids, which is situated right next to the ever-blooming Disneyland.
All of Florida knows two things about her husband, Travis — he tirelessly pitches Founders American Merchandise (FAM), a pyramid scheme popular in the early 90s, to anyone who would listen and that he was a millionaire in the making (or so he thought). Riding along on this topsy-turvy journey is the ever-clingy Cody Bonar (Théodore Pellerin), Travis’s upline and a motivation machine to the heavily brainwashed workaholic. Despite Krystal’s best efforts, Travis refuses to believe that he is being dragged into the make-believe world of FAM and its founder Obie Garbeau II (Ted Levine). But before Travis regains his senses, their family life is cut short and now Krystal and baby Destiny must fend for themselves.
Don’t know about others, but I find the title outrageously misleading. Is it a spoof comedy? A gang war movie? Who’s to say! But that confusion is cleared pretty early on: a vulnerable man, and as it turns out, all of America, is crusading on the I-am-a-hardworking-American-one-step-away-from-being-a millionaire fantasy. The series, written by Robert Funke and Matt Lutsky and backed by George Clooney, debunks the brutal reality behind the big American dream that everyone seems to be going bonkers about and how anyone who falls prey to the multi-level marketing pyramid schemes comes home with an empty pocket and splintered dreams.
The tonality of ‘On Becoming a God in Central Florida’ rides on the back of dark comedy, with occasional deviations towards drama. And of all the weird and hilarious characters that stand out, co-producer and protagonist Kristen Dunst as Krystal shines the brightest. She is wacky and ruthless, with moments of niceness to remind the viewers, and herself, of the person she used to be before life hit her with a hammer. Some of her best scenes involve gore, insult comedy, a swamp and two alligators (no spoilers because the alligators scenes are so good).
The lanky fellow Cody (Théodore Pellerin) is a revelation. He is both calm and conniving, naïve and knowing. As the FAM business upline and Obie Garbeau II loyalist, Pellerin brings to front the manipulative mindset of an individual with a keen desire to succeed and please his master. It is only Krsytal and Destiny that bring out the vulnerabilities in him and shed some light on the man he is behind those FAM theatrics he pulls off at seminars and pitches.
Other smaller but equally crucial characters include Ernie Gomes (Mel Rodriguez), who is a loving man with little layers to his personality. His sweet wife Bets Gomes (Beth Ditto) is also the most satiated character in the series. Ted Levine, with his high-pitched, God-like motivational cassettes and an air of mystery around him, channels the energy of a shrewd businessman and a control freak. Kevin J. O'Connor, as the head of security, Roger Penland, is a man of few words with his expressions doing all the talking. Alexander Skarsgård leaves a mark in his brief role as Travis.
The premise of a female protagonist taking on a male-dominated business is all too familiar (Ozark comes to mind for sure) but the step-by-step decoding of the pyramid scheme and the politics behind it is not. Which is why, despite a few hiccups in the second half (the makers should have stuck to just comedy), ‘On Becoming a God in Central Florida’ strikes a chord with the audience despite all its quirks, gore and absurdity.
Even in 1992, Americans and people who looked at it from the outside thought that if you are going to make it big in life and drive around in a Merc or an Audi, then America is the place to be. If anything, the land of opportunities is a classic case of ‘grass is greener on the other side’ and this dark comedy, through its eccentric scenes and sequences, explains why.