The Florida Project May 23, 2018 23:00:13 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on May 23, 2018 23:00:13 GMT -5
The Florida Project (2017)
Directed by: Sean Baker
Directed by: Sean Baker
Brooklynn Prince (left) and Bria Vinaite in The Florida Project.
Things start simple. Three kids — no older than six — scream for one another in a motel/apartment complex and then begin their day by spitting on a resident's car from the second floor. After being scolded and forced to clean up their mess, they continue indulging in a day's worth of mischief and camaraderie based on their means. The complex is the real-life Magic Castle Inn & Suites in Florida on the outskirts of Walt Disney World, and one of the kids is Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), the daughter of Halley (Bria Vinaite), a single mom who lives week-to-week in the budget motel. This is their story.
Halley makes ends meet however she can: she buys knock-off perfume and sells it near the amusement park, she steals items from others and resells them, and when she's really strapped, she prostitutes herself when she assumes no one is looking. Moonee, on the other hand, is left to her own devices, spending much of her time with her friend Scooty (Christopher Rivera), who also lives at the Magic Castle, Dicky (Aiden Malik), or Jancey (Valeria Cotto), who lives at a "nicer" motel nearby. Always present at the Magic Castle, for he serves as the manager, maintenance man, and unassigned guardian of the children, is Bobby (Willem Dafoe), who observes all the activity that goes on during the long, humid Orlando summer. Although his stern exterior leads people like Halley and Scooty's mother, Ashley (Mela Murder), to believe he's only concerned about the rent from his tenants, Bobby has an unmistakable way about keeping an eye on the children, as if to shield them when the world begins to show them a bit too much all at once.
It's been great to watch co-writer/director Sean Baker grow as a filmmaker and The Florida Project shows that the 47-year-old is a fiercely original talent who has ultimately refined his craft. Coming off his comedy-drama Starlet, which evoked warm-tones with a great female-centered relationship at its core, and Tangerine, which revolved around transgender sex workers and was shot on an iPhone, The Florida Project is his smoothest, most laudable effort. It tells the story of multiple individuals through vignettes, showing the wonderment of youth in contrast with the hardships of being working poor and uncertain from where your next meal will come. In the background, DisneyWorld doubles as a place of refuge and an ultimate dead-end, a location I can envision some viewers groveling to see at some point during this 111-minute affair. But alas, this is a story of those too underprivileged to afford a meal at the corporate theme park, let alone a weekend pass.
Despite his two previous pictures being accomplished on a micro-scale, while remaining aesthetically impressive, The Florida Project is Baker's most astute and conscious film. He remains marvelously non-partisan in positing conveniences or easy answers in the lives of these troubled individuals and their difficult situations. In the same ways he shows Halley's attentiveness in allowing Moonee to "splurge" on trinkets and costume jewelry at the dollar store, and her decision to allow her to eat pizza in bed and stay up a wee bit later than she probably should, he shows her failings as a parent. Her neglecting Moonee, along with her flaws and downright disregard for the wellbeing of her daughter, doesn't get lost in an intoxicating mix of pulsating fuchsias and deep purples that represent Orlando in the summertime. What gets avoided, however, are the conclusions he could easily conjure up himself.
Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch are cognizant of the fact that a little compassion and well-handled sentiment go a long way in building up a story that could use a little more of those things as opposed to the grit typically afforded to these slices of life tales. Speaking as a fan of Larry Clark films, The Florida Project is comparable in its desire to show life on the other side of the tracks, as well as the bonds that are made by people in an ostensibly hopeless place. Yet it also manages to show the small glimmers of whimsy and discovery, largely due to its focus on children. There's a beautiful scene where Monee is eating a nice dinner with her mother, Baker's camera focused on her face in a close-up as she shovels food into her face and makes comments to herself. She eats a strawberry and raspberry at the same time and remarks about how weird it tastes. She impulsively wishes she had a "pregnant" stomach so she could eat more food. It's all beautiful stuff.
The film's structure loans itself to showing the fragmented portions of childhood, similar to how the memories transpire to us in our old age as fallible as they are. We are much more likely to remember that time we tagged along with some friends to break bottles in an abandoned shack more than we are a critical lesson in school. Baker and Bergoch register this in a devious moment between Moonee, Scooty, and Jancey that threatens their friendships and simultaneously puts their parents, namely Halley and Ashley, in precarious positions as those who should know what's best for their children. Ashley knows what her son did and punishes him accordingly. Halley is not stupid; she has to know what Moonee did, but at the same time knows resources for her daughter are like her friends — in short supply. It's not right, but it's a rationale as convenient as anything in a place that feels so close yet so isolated from the happiest place on Earth.
The kids themselves pop together; nearly every scene where the ensemble of Prince, Rivera, and Cotto exists gives way to a lot of emotions, namely empathy and awe of earnest innocence. Bria Vinaite is also electric, with a duel-handed ability to play incendiary in her desire to be protective of her daughter while at the same time carefree in early scenes when in the company of Ashley or unsavory men. But the most noticeably different performance, namely because he's the most experienced in the crowd, is Willem Dafoe, who is positioned as a God amongst sinners in the Magic Castle.
All you need to know about Dafoe's Bobby is the way he's captured in his first major scene in the film — in the moments following a power outage at the motel, caused by Moonee and her friends, of course. He wanders out of his office to an infuriated crowd of infuriated dwellers, most of whom he ignores so he can get to the utilities closet and throw the power back on. When he walks out of the closet, Baker's camera follows Bobby with a low-angle tracking shot that shows him walking back the way he came, turning around intermittently to acknowledge the motel's inhabitants whose hissing comments have now turned to cheers. Put simply, Dafoe's Bobby is God amongst man; in some ways, the most righteous being the complex has ever seen. He's certainly the one with the most power.
No matter where you direct your focus, The Florida Project is an ensemble of remarkable talent from all corners. Whether it be composer Lorne Balfe (who has done the composition for many Call of Duty installments), who favors digetic music in a very similar way to American Honey, cinematographer Alexis Zabe and his love for warm hues, Baker and his fascinating directorial vision, or the aforementioned performers, all but Dafoe criminally shortchanged at this year's Oscars, not a moment goes by where some strength from someone with great skill isn't displayed on-screen. The Florida Project represents growth from an American filmmaker whose name you don't know but probably should, and a laundry-list of skilled people whose names you will known in due time. Brooklynn Prince, after all, is only eight, and Bria Vinaite is 24-years-old.
Starring: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Rivera, Valeria Cotto, Aiden Malik, and Mela Murder. Directed by: Sean Baker.