Film Review: The Florida Project (2017)
Our resident film critic, Belle McIntyre, reviews the latest work by director Sean Baker, The Florida Project. Watch out for more on the film and the director himself in our upcoming issue of Musée Magazine, Humanity. Coming soon!
Director: Sean Baker
Review by Belle McIntyre
The Florida Project is a logical and marvelous follow-up to Sean Baker’s surprising breakout film of 2015, Tangerine about transgender hookers in South LA. He proves to have an ear and an eye for capturing the immediacy and reality of some seriously marginalized groups, while respectfully conveying their humanity. That film was, incredibly, filmed entirely with an iphone.
This one, filmed in 35 mm., is set in a would-be utopian planned community to service Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Imagine a low-rent Las Vegas for kids. And then imagine a lavender motel called The Magic Kingdom which costs $38 a night and has the motliest crew of misfits, miscreants, and folks just trying to get by. It resembles a housing project, with welfare recipients receiving food deliveries daily. And the rest of the neighborhood is just as garish as the sun-baked Magic Kingdom.
The motel manager, Bobby, played by Willem Dafoe in one of the most nuanced and sensitive roles I have seen from him. He is borderline sweet. (Who knew?). He has to police some of the more unruly adults, most notably Halley (Bria Vinaite) a 20-something unwed mother of Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), her 10 year old rambunctious daughter, who is something of a gang leader of the other largely unmonitored kids who roam the neighborhood looking for something to do, which is, more often than not, making trouble. They can hardly be blamed as it is summer and their parents (usually single) are busy struggling to make a living and not looking after them. They have little supervision and no planned activities. Bobby works hard and is conscientious. He cares about how the place looks and goes out of his way to make it all work even though he is not the owner. He is also a compassionate guy, who will cut some slack with tenants who cannot come up with the rent. He particularly cares about the kids, fending off potential sex predators and drug dealers.
The film really focuses on the world of the kids and they are endearing to watch. It reminds me of the Little Rascals, as the kids have their own hierarchy with Moonee as their fearless leader. She is an irrepressible instigator. Moonee, unfortunately has the least responsible mother. Halley is a heavily-tattooed part time stripper, off-brand perfume tout, and occasional trick-turner. She has a police record and is totally terrified of another encounter but more importantly has an anger management problem which does not help her cause.
There is not much of a story line. It is more of an immersion into the dailiness of the lives of these folks in their hardscrabble lives in this preposterous-looking cartoon location. It is never less than engaging. The non-actor kids and Bria Vinaite as Halley are thoroughly believable as characters in this milieu. The style of the cinematography is either child’s eye level or selfy-ish and therefore naturalistic. When situations spiral out of control leading toward a bad end for Moonee and Halley the film abruptly ends. But…Disney World is visible just on the horizon even though it is a world away. Maybe, maybe not…