31 Days, 31 Movies 12/23: The Florida Project

This movie is likely playing in one theater in your city.  On the otherhand you can still see Daddy’s Home 2 anywhere you’d like.  I’m not saying that that is exactly what’s wrong with America in 2017 but I’m also not not saying that either.  The Florida Project is a movie about how the only thing worse than children is living in Florida.  Or at least I think that’s what Sean Baker was going for in his newest film.  The opening 10 minutes alone is some of the most effective birth control I’ve come across in my life.  And sets the stage well for a film that ends with someone screaming directly into the camera lens.

The Florida Project is a fitting follow-up to Sean Baker’s acclaimed 2015 comedy-drama, TangerineTangerine was the story of two transsexual prostitutes searching through Los Angeles for one of their boyfriends who had cheated on her.  It was ambitious and unique; Mya Taylor and Kitana Rodriguez who played the main roles were two transsexual women who were former sex workers themselves and neither had any formal acting experience beforehand.  I loved what Tangerine set out to do and it was genuinely hilarious at times but Bakers limited budget (movie was made for $100,000 according to Wikipedia a very reputable source) and a rambling plot held the movie back in spots.  But even though it had its shortcomings it proved that Baker was a very capable and talented filmmaker and an excellent judge of talent.

Baker made The Florida Project for $2 million which compared to most movies is dirt cheap but compared to Tangerine is basically Star Wars.  And the increased budget shows; Tangerine looks like it was shot on someone’s Motorola Razr and the cheap equipment detracts from Baker’s good eye for cinematography but in The Florida Project that isn’t an issue.  On top of an increase in production budget having the ability to add an accomplished actor in Willem Dafoe gave The Florida Project a push that Tangerine just didn’t have.  Not to say that the amateur actors that Baker discovered weren’t excellent because he’s four for four at the moment but a steady hand in a supporting role never hurt any film.  Some of the best scenes in The Florida Project are Dafoe acting alongside Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince.  The scene where Bobby (Dafoe) is waiting with Moonee (Prince) as her mother is being inspected by DCF is one of the film’s most beautiful moments.  But the break out star of The Florida Project is definitely Bria Vinaite who plays Moonee’s mother, Halley.  Halley and Moonee live in a motel just outside of Disneyworld in Orlando that seems to be almost exclusively inhabited by poor families and the odd Brazilian couple who get screw over by a really bad travel agent.  Baker tells the story of a struggling single mother with the same care and authenticity he did with his characters in Tangerine and an affecting character is bolstered behind a fantastic performance by Vinaite—I hope unlike the two stars of Tangerine we see more of Vinaite in the future.

Baker has an eye for scenery and composition and has an interest in stories and subjects that not many do but while The Florida Project has a more cohesive narrative flow than Tangerine it is still too rambling and unfocused my liking.  Baker seems to have a disdain for resolution that part of me really respects artistically and part of me just wants him to make a decision on a story and tell it from start to some kind of finish.  But really the joy in watching The Florida Project does not come from the plot it is the performances and the life that Baker breaths into an otherwise lifeless setting coupled with a great deal of wit and a fair amount of humor.

Conclusion:

Baker sets out to tell a compelling and genuine story of young single mothers struggling with poverty and uncertainty and he succeeds.  The cast is remarkable especially Willem Dafoe and break out star Bria Vinaite but the plot suffers from a lack of focus at times and while Brooklynn Prince is a surprisingly accomplished performer for her age a great deal of the film is allotted to the ultimately very uninteresting activities of children on summer vacation.

Rating: 83

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