The warmth of the beach against the backdrop of beautiful art-deco architecture. Miami is undoubtedly a place many Nordic people dream of, with regular discounted direct flights available from the major cities. In addition to that, Miami offers a lot that the Nordics don’t have, namely sun, nice weather and a type freedom not offered in Europe. That this Finnish film is called Miami is not to tell of its setting, but rather of the dream the lead character, Angela, has: to escape her cold and miserable life and find freedom elsewhere. Here, Miami is a symbolic city, representing everything Angela wants but can’t reach.
Angela is an exotic dancer in her late twenties, aware that her career is slowly coming to an end, not being booked for major shows anymore. She launched a dance group called the Amazing Angels, in which she has taken out a 30,000 Euro loan from a loan shark. At the start of the film, we see the Amazing Angels disband after a dislike for Angela, and now Angela is stuck with no crew and a circling loan shark.
Luckily, Angela meets Anna, her long-lost half-sister who has managed to track her down. Anna is shy, quiet and the complete opposite of the eccentric Angela. Their father has just passed away, and Anna is looking to form a relationship with the one family member she has left. Angela entices the sheltered Anna to leave her café job and step out of her mousy shell to tour the small-town nightclubs, just for a little while. After a quick lesson under the light of a service station, Anna masters the undemanding choreography and attitude of Angela’s performance, and the two are ready to perform.
When Angela lets slip that she owes 30,000 Euros to a loan shark, Anna senses the desperation and decides to stick around, performing alongside her sister. With the money due in an impossible three weeks, the two set off on something of a road trip to earn the money. Realising that’s going to be practically impossible, Anna comes up with a scheme to raise the money by blackmailing some of the well-off men Angela parties with. A politician is the first to pay for their silence, and eventually, the blackmailers stumble into the realm of major-league corruption – involving a government plan for clean energy. Yet, this isn’t a major plot point. Rather, this corruption plotline is quickly dismissed as the debt catches up with Angela and Anna, having devastating consequences.
The film, which was shot in just twenty-five days, does have issues with the plot. The way in which the two sisters reunite is a stretch, and Anna’s quick transformation also seems unlikely. Furthermore, the middle section of the film does seem to chug along, and as mentioned, the whole subplot of government corruption and clean energy seems muddled and hard to follow.
That said, the plotholes are easily dismissed because of how enchanting and mesmerising this film is. The sisters are both refreshingly complex lead female characters, and the two lead actresses really pull you in. Angela, despite her first-glance airheadedness, is the more complex of the two to pin down. Despite her free-spiritedness, she falls back on her religious faith, routinely praying before her bed for the night in front of a slightly confused Anna. This clinging to faith is mostly rooted in Angela’s damaged childhood, which becomes apparent throughout the film as occasionally Angela shows resentment to Anna, who benefited from their fathers love throughout childhood. Angela was virtually orphaned and forgotten. Additionally, the script makes it clear that Angela’s father was not the only man to disappoint her, and most of her male interactions have negative consequences.
In contrast, when Anna has a fling with the sound engineer, it shows that Anna is capable of handling herself and getting what she wants without feeling used or betrayed. Anna is undergoing a transformation of her own while trying to contend her sister’s unpredictability. As an ex-boyfriend of Angela’s warns, being around her is like being on cocaine and Anna must be wary of the come-down. Tellingly, when Anna lets her big sister out of her sight there are devastating consequences.
On the one hand, there’s Angela’s religious faith and childlike innocence, the wide-eyed dreamer beneath the seeming toughness. On the other side of the push-pull equation is Anna’s constant strategising, and the question of whether or not she’s helping her sister or endangering her. The two lead actresses, seasoned Finnish actress Krista Kosonen (who recently had a major role in Bladerunner 2049) and the newcomer Sonja Kuittinen, for which Miami is her first feature film, perfectly play the sisters, and really bring life to these characters.
In addition to the excellent performances, the feel of Miami is enticing. Using a blend of neon colours that look far removed from the cold blues of Finland, the film creates a neon tone that mimics the warm, art-deco tones of Miami rather than the style of films like Drive. It’s this colourful backdrop and eccentricity that create such a unique feel to the film that further dismisses strange plot points. “Imagine this is a club in Miami,” Angela says to her nervy sister before their first performance together, and indeed this is the feel that director Zaida Bergroth tries to capture in the feel and complex character study of this road movie.