The Florida Project - 2017
Director(s): Sean Baker
Writer(s): Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch
Cinematography by: Alexis Zabe
Editor(s): Sean Baker
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto and Bria Vinaite
Synopsis: Set during the summer, Moonee, a 6-year-old girl, lives with her mother Halley in a community of extended-stay motel guests in Florida.
Sean Baker broke on to the scene with 2015’s Tangerine. It was a break-out hit for both being a funny and unique character piece and for being the first feature length film to be shot on an iPhone. While that movie is great, it felt limited cinematically by its iPhone gimmick (for lack of a better term). This time around he shot this movie on 35mm film and it looks gorgeous. Baker, along with cinematographer Aleix Zabe, demonstrated a total command over their shot composition. The way every single shot is framed was a treat to the eyes; despite the subject matter at times being ugly, the movie aesthetically never was ugly. My favorite shots where every time they would frame the girls in the middle with the huge purple building in the backdrop and the beautiful blue sky of Florida over all of them.
While I always avoid reading or watching any review before I write my own, I’m sure that I won’t be the first nor the last to say that Barker and his co-writer Chris Bergoch wrote one of the most human scripts of the year. By that I mean, not a single character felt like that: a character. Once you get into the flow of the movie, who they are and what the story is about, your brain switches off the “I’m watching a movie” thought and buys in to the events. I’m usually mixed with how movies tend to write kids, as they are used to either produce a joke that an adult would normally say, this way provoking more laughter, or they feel like they are repeating lines they just memorized before they started filming. These kids were, well, kids, with every single words or gesture felt like they were completely unaware the cameras where rolling.
Quick note: many of the “ugly” adult situations are shot from the POV of the kids, having many of the adults shot out of frame, capturing how kids don’t always have the entire picture or context of the events around them.
For that, Baker deserves a lot of praise, gaining incredible performances from all the kids involved, the stand-outs being Brooklynn Prince as Moonee and Valeria Cotto as Jancey. Prince takes Cotto under her wing and shows her what kids that go completely unsupervised do in this quasi motel/ghetto neighborhood set in the backdrop of Disneyland. Growing up in Puerto Rico I saw and I knew kids that acted and talked like these little tornadoes. Baker pulled a genuinely refreshing performance from both. This is also Willem Dafoe’s best performance in a long time. He plays Bobby, the manager of the motel. Dafoe is best known for his scenery chewing performances, but this time around he gave such a warm and grounded performance as he tries to help this little girl and her mother out, played perfectly by Bria Vinaite in her first movie role.
I do have some qualms with this movie. It drags a little do to the repetitive nature of some shots - these kids eat a lot of ice cream - and the ending feels completely out of place. I understand what Baker was going for, but I feel it cheated everything that came before it. The ending felt abrupt as if they tried to force feed us a happy-ish ending before the credits rolled. It didn’t completely sour my experience with the movie, but the ending leaves a lot to be desired.
The Florida Project takes us on a ride through a lifestyle few didn’t know existed and many try to avoid. Living not knowing if you can pay your rent, doing whatever it takes to feed the daughter you are barely raising. It’s a deeply sad study of how your surroundings and your parents mold the person you are going to be when you grow up. It managed to be both sad and joyful at the same time and it left a lasting impression on my mind. I hope Barker keeps making these small stories that connect with you on a human level. For every Transformers fiasco that gets made, I hope 30 more Florida Projects are made too. Brooklynn Prince and Valeria Cotto are why I love movies.
The Florida Project is currently playing in theaters. Wonderful movie, watch it.
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