Florida Project, The (2017)

Review #1,520

Director:  Sean Baker
Cast:  Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe
Plot:  Set over one summer, the film follows precocious six-year-old Moonee as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, all while living in the shadows of Disney World.

Genre:  Drama / Comedy
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Supporting Actor.  Premiered in Director's Fornight section (Cannes)
Runtime:  111 mins
Rating:  NC16 for language throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material.
International Sales:  Protagonist Pictures
Singapore Distributor:  Shaw Organisation

“I can always tell when adults are about to cry.”

If you enjoyed Sean Baker’s previous film, Tangerine (2015), his follow-up, The Florida Project, should be right up your alley.  Replace transgender prostitutes in Los Angeles with kids in Florida and you still get a movie that is distinctively the work of the talented American indie filmmaker.  Eschewing iPhones (which were used to shoot Tangerine) for the 35mm celluloid camera, Baker presents a vision of working-class Americana that is at once beautiful and heartbreaking.  

From the get-go, we are enthusiastically brought into the life of Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), who with her ragtag of friends from the neighbourhood, play pranks and run around all day.  Her single young tattooed mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), smokes and swears, and pays her rent by illegally selling random beauty products and accessories to passing tourists.

These tourists are there for Disney World, which looms somewhere in the background (but we never get to see it distinctly).  Occasionally, fireworks explode, giving residents like Halley and Moonee the night’s entertainment.  Managed by Bobby (Willem Dafoe in a delightful supporting performance), the motel that houses these residents is adjacent to a range of other architectural set-ups, each defined by their unique colour, almost as if they are sets for a Wes Anderson movie.  

As we follow the kids in their daily fun (or to the adults, nuisance), we become aware of the geographical spaces that they operate in.  This is perhaps why Baker’s work is so interesting—because the entire film is shot in present tense film grammar with the main space (i.e. the motel) being the focal point, whenever the kids leave the vicinity in search of mischief, new spaces are introduced.  

That sense of childlike discovery, matched by the restless camera’s capture of their energy and positivity, gives The Florida Project an acute sense of intimacy.  This is filmmaking that lets us into the kids’ very own ‘Disney World’.  

Make what you will of the film’s denouement, which Baker builds up dramatically, only to bewilder by leaving us hanging—not in terms of its narrative but of its tone.  The startling authenticity that the film has projected for more than 90 minutes suddenly dissipates, marred by the overbearing use of non-diegetic music (apart from the opening credits, music was consciously avoided throughout).  

The irony is that the last montage scene was shot guerrilla style using a mobile camera—the lack of pixel clarity is evident and its rawness should have been exploited to greater effect, rather than fantasised.  Still, this is a pretty good film in its own right.  

Verdict:  Shot in present tense film grammar, Baker’s follow-up to Tangerine startles with its authenticity and energy, but it doesn’t provide a satisfying enough denouement.  





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