The Florida Project : A Film Review


The Florida Project

Director … Sean Baker, Writer …Willem Dafoe … Bobby, Brooklynn Prince … Moonee, Valeria Cotto … Jancey, Bria Vinaite … Halley,  Christopher Rivera … Scooty, Caleb Landry Jones … Jack, Macon Blair … Tourist John, Karren Karagulian … Narek,  Sandy Kane … Gloria, Jason Blackwater … Ticket-Buying Dad, Carl Bradfield … Charlie Coachman,  Jim R. Coleman … Cabbie (as Jim Coleman) Kelly Fitzgerald … Twistee Treat Girl’s Mom, Seitz Sabina Friedman-Seitz … Church Group Sarah.

Produced by Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch, Kevin Chinoy, Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, Francesca Silvestri, Shih-Ching Tsou, Written by Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch. Drama. USA.  Cert 15.  Duration 1hr 55mins.

 


Synopsis

Warm, winning, and gloriously alive, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is a deeply moving and unforgettably poignant look at childhood.

Set on a stretch of highway just outside the imagined utopia of Disney World, The Florida Project follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince in a stunning breakout turn) and her rebellious mother Halley (Bria Vinaite, another major discovery) over the course of a single summer. The two live week to week at “The Magic Castle,” a budget motel managed by Bobby (a career-best Willem Dafoe), whose stern exterior hides a deep reservoir of kindness and compassion. 

Despite her harsh surroundings, the precocious and ebullient Moonee has no trouble making each day a celebration of life, her endless afternoons overflowing with mischief and grand adventure as she and her ragtag playmates—including Jancey, a new arrival to the area who quickly becomes Moonee’s best friend—fearlessly explore the utterly unique world into which they’ve been thrown. Unbeknownst to Moonee, however, her delicate fantasy is supported by the toil and sacrifice of Halley, who is forced to explore increasingly dangerous possibilities in order to provide for her daughter.  a24films.com summary.

Baker’s immersive examination of lives lived in the shadow of a fantasy world holds no clichéd, feel-good lessons about love or families. Instead, it boldly takes us to a place where momentary joys, a mother’s devotion, and a spirited girl called Moonee can find a home.  QFT inticement.

If your growing up in Florida expect sunshine tornados and fantasy. The very grounded film The Florida Project directed by Sean Baker brings together as a societal compound, the life’s of a group of residents in a Florida State Housing project on the periphery of swarms of tourists descending on Disneyland and to play the local golf courses. The swath of colour which opens this film – unusually main characters cross as titles at the beginning – over a musical blast of dance music coming down the speakers rom Earth Wind and Fire. This is the sunniest intro to a film I have seen in an age. The ‘project’ is top to bottom, roof to car park floor, in lurid garish purple and other neon colours in shocking shades. The columns supporting the three storeyed open landings are a contrast in white. Under the staircases kids sit bored and vocally intolerant of it. They are the encapsulation of what The Florida Project is about. They provide the Florida orange juice effect in spades or by the juicer, wringing out their life’s path. A six year old girl with a fine skill of acting is central. Brooklynn Prince, real name! plays, literally, Moonee whose mother is in a flat on the second level. Bria Vinaite brilliantly gets to match her acting partner daughters skills and gets the vibe and process of this emotionally conflicting film. Both warm and scarily hard it is a take on contemporary America and also in its purpose a depiction of what it is like for a particular, and probably generally like for a kid growing up in these times and first on their mind to fulfill is the nearness of the fantasy which infiltrates the world projected through the adults construction of a world vision. The adult world also involves fantasy and fiction and is short stopped by reality several rungs along the rope bridge walkway they traverse.


This is America

Following on from the remarkable Tangerine filmed entirely on an iPhone director once again outplays other more prominent mainstream directors by choosing alongside the films chief Central pivot Willem Dafoe in a height of his skills, he has assigned roles to actors who are inexperienced and yet totally on message and getting the nature of this socially pragmatic fare. Brooklyn obviously has not acted before and the same applies to her little friends. Bria as the mother Halley is astounding and triggers all kinds of empathy and sympathy. The ensemble is by Sean Bakers method of hyper confrontational close up very unlike Stanislavsky and inward emotions hidden and difficult to read. The warmth of the piece is driven I think by the rationale of Willem Dafoes part playing the janitor come social worker and The Florida Project’s fulcrum. He has obviously put his fellow cast members at ease and allowed them to achieve a presence of themselves getting their emotions out and expressed. How Brooklyn has found the skills to act in this important shifting part is staggering to watch. She is not to be outdone by a legendary, Platoon, Hollywood elite actor. Dafoe is careful and knows these children’s own discovery and fascination – which the film outrageously brilliantly delivers in spades – the wonders of seeing the world open its peculiarities and beauty and dismal consequence of extremes of life. The tribulations are seen by the children as they are in the process themselves of interpreting it and this is simply another means. Astory told on camera and laid out by adults who ensure they enjoy what they are doing no matter how vexing or troublesome – lots of tears and tantrums – they know about.


Other side

Set on the wrong side of the tracks, the highways and roads leading to the fantasy capital – Disneyland – this is outside the tourist and hotel traffic of middle America or savings America seeing the fantasy in reality. It is far removed from the bought experiences of chosen illusion, the Golf Ball circuits and the entertainment hype is a commodity the people of the Project see as a daily crazy juxtaposition. Helicopters lift off as the children gesture finger wagging at the drone of the whirling bird ascending into another world. The children walk the edge of the drainage collection waterway. All but dried out and unkept. The houses beyond after the global property meltdown now lay empty and as a ghost of hyperville brought home to roost. The colorful dwelling each a reminder of the dreams sought and put up to obtain. Now empty the kids see the world as aa playground. A forest in their midst. The waterway hidden by reeds and alligators get a mention. The project itself is the left over spaces of a rundown hotel which has recut its cloth by leading to the State ‘The Project’ for a surplus of need. The hotel itself is out of bounds and only Bobby, Dafoe, gets to trade in the grounds by way of advising his host of the management he has in place for the breaches, and there are plenty, of the rules and regulations of fraternizing with the incomers. A fine piece of observation is the proximity of a Christian Foodbank which shows up outside the front of the Hotel to distribute food and wrapped meals and an abundance of donations. When they are first seen to be too close to the Hotel the host tells them to go round the back.


Poverishment

Form the early sunshine overspilling and the imaginative diversions – they are a directors guided tour of the elements of Wonder – the kids – Brooklyn mainly, set off on as adventure and the Aristotelian ethic of striving for arete, is seen – like the child seeking out the top of a mountain in its mind.

Brooklyn is on a mission. Able to know what a virtuos life might entail, they are on the road to – and Bobby, Halley keep their optimism up – to discovering a road of exertion is needed not only delving into intellectual or physical endurance, satisfaction, amusement is not always the co-traveller. These elements of the story are set to contrast with the adult plight of poverty and need with Halley and another parent, a woman whose daughter could not handle her granddaughter and they bond after a furious argument. The kids do to. The choices that Halley has to make are knifedege existence. To find her rent is a daily struggle. Bobby as ‘social worker’ is a kind, firm but fare Sargent. He is seeing this as a reality his own circumstances remind him of. His son is briefly in the storyline to show where he is and has come from.

There is through the film hope alongside the despair and the contrasting fortunes of each character is very well charged. Even the generosity of the Hotel patrons and a bit of criminal and predatory proximity is salt and pepper to the films societal examination. You will go a long time before finding a film so buoyant and atnthe same time drowning under the eweitghtbof the humanity flagged up so perceptively by Sean Baker and delivered by the cast.

Conclusion #####5
It is a joyful must see film which will have you feeling strongly about the sharpness of its meaning and perhaps for the portrayal of a filmic view of what must be a very familiar plight in America where the poverty is still a major issue. When you think of the number of homeless in GB at a level of around 350,000 you can Project and add some to the scale seen in the USA. Federal changes are rolling out and also incrementally rolling back with it becoming a lottery where you end up. This film shows one state project. The Florida Project is a beginning of a indictment of Republican Politics and failed, Capitalist based Obamanomics which itself is being pummeled and redesigned. You don’t have to be Aristophanes to understand where children fit in this future. The al to plain to see fantasy of materialism is captured in the simple existence of Moonee and her gang. Instead of the remake intended of the Lord of the Flies. The Girl version look no further to than this for a coruscating example of the nature of child’s anxieties and the place of them. It might be summer break and schooling is not on the agenda but healthcare and education as well as having a safe and good environment to grow up in is paramount. A good name for a flimsy company. The upshot is this is a terrifically emotionally complex film warm in its weird way and hopeful in its quest of putting it out there for America. An artist I spoke to Sean Campbell, who had conceived and created an American Stars and Stripes in a large Plastic Bricks (Lego!) on the floor of a Gallery at Platform arts said he intended to take out bricks as the show went on. I asked was this representing the dismantling of US values and he took the opposite view and said (or words to the effect) that it was an act of taking out individual parts as they can create the anew the future without that burden of the flag so often a wrongfully adopted symbol of nationhood or the individual. It is very true to look at the positive things as this film testifies. The burden is upon the individual not the state to act correctly – the state can follow.

with award season soon to be up there the prospects of a new Film World wracked with scandal and sexual abuse and exploitation there is sure to be no La La Land moment or Moonlight shading this years films.  The Florida Project sneaks in behind The Ghost Story as one of the best of the year.
John Graham
10 November 2017
Belfast

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