Movie Review: ‘The Florida Project’; a solid depiction of the virtue of childhood
Director: Sean Baker
Writers: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite
Synopsis: Set over one summer, the film follows precocious 6-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.
Hopefully somewhere within this fictional “kingdom” that’s being projected into The Florida Project, there’s more Sean Baker has yet to unveil. Maybe it’s just the Cannes and TIFF hype, but there’s something that feels a bit unfulfilling about what the audience is receiving. That goes without including the affectionate performance given by Willem Dafoe and the awe-inspiring one from newcomer Brooklynn Prince. Also not including the exemplary cases of character study and the overarching themes of adolescence and innocence or in this particular situation, lack thereof.
Baker’s previous project Tangerine, was a small indie hit at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and made a whole lot of noise for filming the entirety of the movie on an iPhone 5s. While there’s no denying that aspect is impressive, there is a never ending void of emptiness in relation to its substance. And while The Florida Project is effortlessly miles better than Tangerine, they sadly both suffer from the same fault. They’re just too lazy. Tangerine’s central focal point is the utilization of the grime and filth of the streets of California. It depicts it in a way that is not only sluggish but distasteful to the viewers eye and opinion. This is the exact way with The Florida Project, but only now it’s detailing the manifestation of a poverty-stricken environment in to childhood and adulthood, using it as some sort of obnoxious gimmick.
In respite to what was said about the craftsmanship he has for scenery and his abusing of it, there’s credit to be given to the man for the innate ability he possesses to represent the development of usually, multiple protagonists. There’s always such a high level of tameness set within the universe of his films, especially here. Every character is somewhat relaxed and mellow, almost like there’s nothing ever held at stake. That’s why the film feels so authentic. That honest, grounded tone that’s being produced throughout the movie gives off that sense of realism that Sean Baker specializes in. The way he pens such a modernization of these children in society today, goes to extensive lengths in the film. Between the unpredictable curse words being spouted and the delinquency of just playing with friends on a hot summer day. It’s the small variety of subtleties like this that need to be in more active screenplays of films today.
Willem Dafoe certainly holds the pants of the movie up. He splits screen time with the family and himself but when given proper scenes for his pure talent to glimmer, they’re no doubt some of the better scenes of the film. The introduction to Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite hopefully gives them a longer time to extend their acting career given they both had such a strong affinity on screen as this mother and daughter that’ll likely put them on the map for future roles.
We can all agree childhood is an odd state to be in. It’s always going to be one big mysterious wonder as a kid and for good reason. You’re constantly asking questions and even when you’re not, you’re probably thinking about asking them. Your body starts undergoing through significant changes. You start acquiring attractions to people etc., but the bottom line is, things are going to happen for better or for worse. The finale of this movie does a wonderful job of exploring that. In the heat of the moment when things come to a conclusion, you get that level of disappointment I had stated before. You feel as though you missed something or there might still be more left to uncover. But after you have more time to contemplate and actually think about it, you realize that Baker absolutely took the right route. There’s never going to be a moment when you decide you’re no longer a child. It’s something that’ll gradually wear off over time. We’re shown here what can happen if that is to ever occur when a young girl is placed in a situation like that. No matter how mature or ahead of curve you think you are, you’re not. And here for Baker, it’s something deeply moving that almost brought tears to my eyes because of the heart-wrenching lesson she learned as the film ended.
I won’t say The Florida Project is a complete disappointment because it isn’t. If anything, it did everything right because of how it left me wanting more. It doesn’t successfully manage to break away from its overwhelming location but with the superb performances, class writing and frivolous moments of what it means to be young, it’s evidently a unique occasion I was glad to experience.
Overall Grade: B
Hear our podcast review on Extra Film, coming soon.