The Florida Project
When I say I cry at movies, it usually means my throat constricted a little and I got a case of the sniffles. But crying actual tears at a theater… that hasn’t happened in a while.
The Florida Project is director Sean Baker’s newest feature, following the life of a little girl named Moonee (Brooklynn Prince who is absolutely stellar) living a lower class life in a housing project in Orlando, Florida. We see her play with her friends (Valeria Cotto and Christopher Rivera), spend time with her single and unemployed mom (Bria Vinaite), and drive the project manager (a great Willem Dafoe) crazy.
The characters are shown in a completely transparent light, tipping completely over towards realism. At many points, you loathe many of the adult characters, but after a while you start appreciate how honest the film is being. And then there’s Willem Dafoe’s character: Bobby, who is a guardian angel watching over the kids. Dafoe gives a disciplined yet sweet approach to his character that marks this as some of his best work in years.
There is a tonal conflict that the film flourishes on, which is the portrayal of an incredibly depressing human situation seen through the eyes of a cheerful 8-year-old. Baker colors his film with potent and dominant colors per scene, ruthlessly comparing this world to that of the heavy consumerism of the Disney and Universal parks around. Baker fabulously captures the life of Moonee, with a simple array of vignettes in her life that make her story seem like someone’s memory rather than a scripted-out narrative; the film then climaxes with an incredibly heart-breaking finale that had the whole theater sniffling. But Baker’s choice of telling his story through vignettes ends up holding him back a little as well.
By choosing to string a bunch of memories as his arc, Baker fails to give his story much of a generic structure. While I admire the boldness and the originality of stepping out of the norm, while watching The Florida Project, once the novelty of the filmmaking choices wears off, you start feeling lost as an audience-member; wondering where the story is going and checking your watch. Another similar movie that applied this structure was Boyhood, and it was able to make-up for this structure with incredibly witty dialogue; The Florida Project’s realism, however, takes away the choice of inserting any philosophical conversations or clever exchanges.
Nevertheless, The Florida Project is an absolute tour-de-force art piece for all who participated in it. The lack of a clear structure, does take its toll on the audience’s orientation, but the film’s acting and filmmaker skill makes up for it. This film is unique in showing us that joy can be ubiquitous even in the direst of situations; and that children are the best emotional teachers humanity will ever have.