Film Review: Sean Baker's THE FLORIDA PROJECT is one of 2017's best
Courtesy of A24 Films
The stages of childhood is a staple that's been common on the silver screen for decades. Coming of age dramas are always good selling points to studios, and just nostalgic enough to turn over a quick buck. The difference with Sean Baker's revolutionary "The Florida Project" is just how authentic he displays those adolescence years, all told through the backdrop of an impoverished Florida community, right next to the happiest place on earth: Disneyworld. It feels like we're watching a documentary.
It's ironic that Baker chose to set his film in this setting, because, as juxtaposition, the story spans over the Fourth of July holiday, where we see a group of young children just living life, while their parents struggle to make ends meet. Meanwhile tourist, from other walks of life, step in and out, hoping to have a great family vacation next door. But to these kids, they don't understand the lenses they're viewing the world in, and that's where Baker perfectly captures the innocence of our youth.
As far as Oscar calibrated performances go, the young and up comer Brooklyn Prince, who carries the movie on her small shoulders, is a standout playing Moonee, a young girl with the correct amount of sass, and attitude.
As the movie begins, Mooney and her peers, among them her partner in crime Scooty (Christopher Rivera), are doing what kids on summer vacation normally partake in: causing mischief. Whether it's spitting on their neighbors cars, or begging for change at the local ice cream parlor, the youngsters are just left to frolic without any rules or authority.
The hotel where they live, is like a close knit community, where hardly any excitement takes place. They all flock to see a house burning down and when they do they say "this is better than TV."
The kids parents are hardly around, usually working, or for Moonee’s mom, Hailey (Bria Vinaite in the films most nuanced performance), laying around in her sweatpants or trying to rip off unsuspecting tourists, by selling them wholesale perfume for an inflated rate. Usually, it's enough to barely make their rent, and to keep the overworked hotel manager Bobby, (Willem Dafoe), of her back. Not to mention that Bobby serves as a type of father figure these kids don't have. Being overly protective wherever he can, and always keeping a watchful eye.
There's strength in being reserved and Dafoe brings the perfect amount of layers to Bobby. Proving that Dafoe's best performances are steeped in reality and subtlety. I'm not going to be the only one to state this is the actor's best performance, but the argument can be made, and the Oscar voters will be watching as well. They also should be watching Vinaite and Prince, who, undoubtedly, make "The Florida Project" a knockout.
By the end, if the performances haven't won you over, the narrative, told in beautiful anecdotes, will. "The Florida Project" cements Baker's status as one of the most innovative filmmakers today, and he's doing it by being an advocate for stories our nation doesn't get to see all that often. This is a remarkable study of poverty, family and personal responsibility told from the perspective of an impassioned six year old, that represents some of 2017's finest cinematic achievements. A