The Florida Project

Film, Drama
5 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(6user reviews)
The Florida Project

Indie wunderkind Sean Baker continues his celebration of communities on the margins, in a movie that vibrates with compassion and energy.

Sometimes a movie needs only a place – a real one, sharply observed – and a community you might see down at the supermarket to cast a spell. That was definitely the case with director Sean Baker’s 2015 breakthrough, ‘Tangerine’, shot on iPhones and vibrating with the sass of LA’s trans-hooker scene.

‘The Florida Project’, his mighty and empathetic latest, is another drama hewn from earthy resources. It’s set at the Magic Castle, a ratty motel on the outskirts of Orlando’s Disney World. The little kids who gleefully run around these halls and swampy backfields don’t seem to notice the disparity between their pastel-coloured surroundings and the hard-luck life they’re living. Nor do they appreciate the dangerous choices that their single mums (including a revelatory Bria Vinaite) stare down on a daily basis, simply to make the rent.

Into this riot of choreographed noise and non-professional performances comes veteran showstopper Willem Dafoe, who ties the movie together under his troubled brow as the motel’s harried manager, Bobby. Dafoe is known for his tortured roles (‘Platoon’, ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’), but this creation – a delicate blend of protector, fusspot and survivor is his richest, most lovable piece of work. He stands by the Coke machine, compassion pouring out of him, and the film takes on a saintly, worried grandeur.

By: Joshua Rothkopf

Posted:

Release details

Rated:
15
Release date:
Friday November 10 2017
Duration:
115 mins

Cast and crew

Director:
Sean Baker
Screenwriter:
Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Cast:
Brooklynn Prince
Bria Vinaite
Willem Dafoe

Average User Rating

3.2 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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Playing catch-up here as this movie from writer/director Sean Baker has been around since last year but still lingers on in some of the capital’s screen venues.


I  must first declare a strong bias. One of my favourite quotes from W. C. Fields, a revered cinematic hero of mine is; ‘Children should neither be seen or heard from - ever again.’


Rabid enthusiasm has greeted the film from many more cerebral critics with a few dissenting voices.


This cinemagoer can’t actually work out what on earth the whole thing is about - grinding poverty in Trump’s America, children’s capacity to have fun in unlikely circumstances, total lack of anything resembling a brain in lower-echelon US society, or whatever?


The scene is set in a seedy low-rent motel in the environs of Disney World in Florida’s Orlando, with a low-life clientele supplemented by accidental and unfortunate tourists. 


Centre stage is a gang of semi-feral children, running riot through the area while their pot-smoking, layabout, petty-thieving, trick-turning elders go about their tedious business.


There’s sometimes a grain of wheat in the chaff - in this case the performance of Willem Dafoe as ‘Bobby’ the motel’s harassed and almost saintly tolerant manager- and given a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.


Dafoe’s character is about the only one in the entire movie showing any hint of intelligence and normal humanity. In reality, even this pillar of understanding would have committed mass infanticide within seconds of the start.


A load of irritating trailer trash.




tastemaker

Filmed mainly with hand-held cameras, regularly moving as if they were human beings, The Florida Project preserves Sean Baker's signature immediacy, easily drawing us to Orlando's degraded outskirts. The brightly-painted walls of the Magic Castle residential complex clash with the dirty lives of its inhabitants, whose state of destitution is the film's underlying constant.

Lengthy scenes involving six-year old Moonee and her peers are deeply amusing and occasionally tiring, but ultimately essential to provoke in us the empathy that gets shattered in the final ten minutes.

Often partially obscured by the presence and movement of the cast, the shots are raw, partially unwritten and transform the spectator into an eyewitness of the kids' mischief and adults f**k ups.

The engaging but moderately-paced development gives us enough time to absorb the facts and reflect on the sordid contradictions of America's society. Not a good choice if all you're looking for is entertainment.

Tastemaker

I thought this film was wonderful. The cinematography itself was lovely and gentle and really unobtrusive, so that the whole way through, as the the viewer, you are simply peeking into these people's lives and watching through as though through a telescope. The colour of the budget hotel and the sunny sky match the colours of Disney World just across the way, yet as the children gallivant past ice-cream parlours and a giant oranges, we are reminded of just how far the real magic kingdom is for this family.

As the story unfolds, you don't really like the main characters - the single mum Halley in particular and even, many times, against your better instinct as a human being, her child - Moonie. Yet you also admire Moonie's sass and her relentless pursuit of fun through exploration. Her bad behaviour - easily explained by her upbringing as her mother fails time and time again to discipline her and teach her the right way to behave - is redeemed by her friendships and her warmth and you see a more sweet side to this child through the eyes of Bobby, the hotel manager, who really looks out for the family.


As you watch the film you see some cracks in the hard, brash Halley and, if you've any empathy, start to feel her plight a little. Certainly you see her loneliness and her struggle, even as you gasp inwardly at her behaviour. And I think this is the entire point; this is not a feel good movie, nor is it a documentary. It's merely a two hour window on a life. Not, in this case a real one - but you can be sure it mirrors reality for some people. 

The movie tells us - shows us in fact - that within the full bloom of the American Dream, amongst the land of princesses and fairy tales, real stories exist, with real people, who everyday fail to make a better life for themselves and that's the truth. Some stories do not have a happy-ever-after but that doesn't make them any less watchable. 


l found this film depressing and soulless.Down and out woman and child (both obnoxious) make no effort to better themselves but just keep digging their own holes before falling into it.The scenes are unrelenting,short and downbeat again and again.The narrative is simplistic.It is hard to watch..Massive redeeming feature is the cinematography.l have never seem Florida captured in all it's beauty of weather and landscapes allied to the vulgarity of retail Americana.It is a visual feast and highly evocative and atmospheric.William Dafoe is always highly watchable.The film is lacking is compassion and humanity and has too much one way traffic of human self inflicted hardship..2.5 stars


I saw this film at the LFF. Sean Baker was there in a Q&A and said his aim was to show another struggling America especially around housing. A good aim, but a massive fail. Some critics have fatuously compared TFP to Ken Loach. But unlike Loach, Andrea Arnold or Clio Barnard, who all include characters with dignity, Baker shows adults as clueless with kids running around ferally. A bit like implying 'these are your stupid Trump voters', rather than pointing at reasons for system failure as Loach (or Bernie Sanders, who also attracted millions of votes from America's poor) would do.  Shameless would be a better comparison as Dafoe plays a similar lone voice when all around him is chaos. Most of this film consists of wisecracking kids with (unrealistically) no idea of school, and the motels painted in lurid colors is an annoying gimmick. Don't waste the price of a ticket on this one.

tastemaker

Got to see an advanced screening of this thanks to Time Out and couldn't get the film out of my head. It's about a single parent and her daughter struggling to make ends meet living in a motel type apartment complex (run by Willem Dafoe). We see the lengths some parents have to go to provide, the influence parents have on their children (mainly negatively) and children's innocence is pretty resilient. The cast are incredible, it's beautifully shot and is not something you forget easily