The Florida Project (2017)
Critic Consensus: The Florida Project offers a colorfully empathetic look at an underrepresented part of the population that proves absorbing even as it raises sobering questions about modern America.
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Critic Reviews for The Florida Project
It doesn't just show what its characters go through, it observes. It notices. It studies. This is a film that pays attention to the little details that communicate huge feelings.
The Florida Project, though, dances deftly around kitchen-sink realism and instead looks at this pastel world through the eyes of characters too young to know, or care, that they aren't rich.
[Director Sean Baker's] frantic depiction of Moonee's final fantasy verges on both brilliance and heartbreak.
It's one of the most effective, honest portraits of childhood you'll ever see, and a touching, poignant snapshot of American life in 2017.
You feel as if you've slipped inside of Moonee's enchanted world, while at the same time seeing the harsh reality of Halley's. That contrast is devastating, right up to a final sequence that's sure to break your heart in two.
Audience Reviews for The Florida Project
The first accomplishment of this accomplished work is the inclusion of reality: everyone in this film I felt I knew or met or interacted with, in situations and locales to which I could relate. Heartbreakingly sad in it's depiction of the home of the free and the brave. Dafoe's best role that I've ever seen has him as an everyman actively trying to get his finger in the hole of the dam to little success. Must see filmmaking, so close to a documentary as to be chilling, with superb acting throughout.
Sean Baker is a director that been around for a while but I think it's fair to say that it wasn't until 2015's indie drama, Tangerine, that people began to sit up and take notice. In fact, I shamefully still didn't acknowledge him and decided to overlook Tangerine. That's a decision that I now regret and must remedy forthwith. Instead, I went straight into The Florida Project having no prior knowledge of Baker's work and now that I've had a taste of his remarkable ability. this is a director I will be watching very closely and one whose back catalogue is now a priority for me. Plot: Along with her rebellious mother Halley (Bria Vinaite), six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) lives at a budget motel managed by Bobby (Willem Dafoe). Moonee is free-spirited young child who's happy to live a mischievous life with her friends finding all sorts of trouble to get into. However, her care-free existence comes at the cost of her financially struggling mother who has to explore more dangerous ways of providing for her daughter. Opening to Kool and the Gang's classic disco song Celebration, you'd be forgiven for thinking that you're in for a fun filled and playful film from the offset. That's not entirely the case but don't get me wrong, there is much to enjoy here in terms of its humour, it's vibrant well-drawn characters and its colourful palette but this opening actually serves as irony to the events that take place throughout the film. First off, the title of Sean Baker's film is a very clever play on words - and his intentions. On the surface, it's the blue-collar, welfare project in Florida that the poverty stricken characters inhabit but "The Florida Project" was also the original title of the world-famous amusement park that is now commonly known as Disney World. And it's this very juxtaposition that hits hardest in Baker's astute social commentary. After Kool and the Gang have their moment, we are introduced to the precocious Moonee as she and her friends run amok around the motel causing all sorts of havoc just to keep themselves entertained. It's apparent early on that Sean Baker is introducing us to an honest and unflinching depiction of people's lives who are living on the poverty line, or who are more commonly known as the hidden homeless. Moonee is our eyes and ears throughout this journey and Baker's decision to use a handheld approach vividly captures the moments in her life. Whenever she's onscreen, Baker regularly lowers his camera to Moonee's eye-level which only adds to her perception of her environment and her place within it. It's a hugely effective approach but he also takes time to spend with the adults within the story. Most notably Moonee's rebellious mother, Halley played by newcomer Bria Vinaite and Willem Dafoe's warm hearted motel manager, Bobby. Baker biggest achievement is in immersing us in these characters' lives with a hugely involving and genuinely authentic delivery. He captures the poverty of their lives - scraping by and just tying to survive day-to-day - all the while a stones throw from Disney World, one of the most lucrative and iconic images of western capitalism. Whether or not Baker has political intentions with his film can be debated but it's a sobering juxtaposition to depict a slice-of-life on the doorstep of the magical kingdom that's primarily aimed at kids and purports a 'dreams come true' ideology yet doesn't have a place for the kids of this movie and many, many like them in reality. Even the lush, pastel coloured backdrop of the motel is at odds and far removed from the struggles of our characters' lives and cinematographer Alexis Zabe does some wonderful work in depicting a sun-kissed Florida that has left these people in the shadows. Athough it can be a raw and unflinching look from the sidelines, Baker imbues the film with such spirit and energy that you're swept along in their journey and while you share their struggle, you're also intoxicated with their positivity and determination and he does so by refraining from judgment or condescension. His approach is one of respect and he films with a compassion and honesty that hits on a deeply personal level. Of course, in order to fully achieve this Baker must rely heavily on his actors and they reward him with excellent work. The child actors deliver very naturalistic performances and six-year-old Brooklynn Prince is a revelation with a lot of weight on her young shoulders. There's equally solid support from newcomer Bria Vinaite and a (deservedly Oscar nominated) soulful supporting turn from the ever reliable Willem Dafoe. It's often forgotten how heartwarming Dafoe can be and this is the epitome of his gentler side to performing. That said, I reckon Vinaite can consider herself very unlucky not to find herself among the Oscar nominees this year such is her ferocious and passionate performance. This is an actress I'm certain we'll be seeing much more of. There's is a lot of irony, juxtaposition and contrast going on in this film but that's what makes it so multi-layered and much more than your average slice-of-life drama. In fact, it reminded me very much of an American version of the works of Ken Loach and his significant and uncanny ability to capture real life - without prejudice - and tell a story of real people facing real problems. An absolutely absorbing and bittersweet gem. Mark Walker
It can be very hard to get invested in a film when the sole purpose is to display a setting and have you feel for characters in certain situations, especially when it's not really building to much of a climax. The Florida Project is the epitome of this type of storytelling, but I find these risky ventures extremely interesting. Although very different movies, I've always loved Richard Linklater's style of storytelling, having a group of characters evolve throughout the film, being the only true through-line of the film. The Florida Project does exactly that and I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with this film, simply because it felt so real. If you're a true fan of the film medium, then here's why I believe The Florida Project is one of the better films of 2017. Many people go to the movies to get immersed in a world outside of their own, but forget that a generic story isn't always the best story. Sure, movies like Star Wars or Harry Potter are huge events and deserve to be seen by everyone, but when a film like The Florida Project can transport you to a real place and either have you relate to the characters or feel the need to praise your own life in comparison with the ones presented on-screen, I feel like that is just as enjoyable sometimes. Following young Moone (the most central character) as she travels around the grounds of her apartment complex, she must cope with being poorly influenced by a terrible mother, while still enjoying the trouble she causes everyone with her friends. At its core, this is a film about moving on from a life you don't need, plain and simple. If a film like this can't interest you, then I can't recommend it. Personally, I found this film very hard to dislike, mainly due to how it was all put together as a finished product. The grungy look to the movie (almost as if it was a homemade feature) really sucked me into this film. I found myself feeling for each of the characters and loving to hate others. Although Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite are the true standouts for carrying this film, I was blown away by the performance that Willem Dafoe gives as the hotel owner. His interaction with each of his guests felt real. Dafoe has never been better, embodying a man that most viewers can relate to in terms of trying to understand the good and bad in everyone, as well as protecting the vulnerable and trying to be a stand-up guy. The movie isn't without a few minor issues, however. This complaint will seem more like a nitpick, but I feel the need to mention it. It's very hard to make a perfect movie and when you're entire film revolves around characters hanging out at a hotel, it can become tiresome at nearly two hours. I did feel the length of the movie when watching, but upon reflection, I feel that was needed. I found this movie to be draining upon first viewing, but I now feel that's necessary to the film itself. In the end, The Florida Project probably won't go down as an independent 2017 classic as I feel it may deserve, but it's a damn good movie that I feel film lovers should wrap themselves up in. The unique editing styles and committed performances combine themselves together to create a loveable little film. The Florida Project is a fantastic little film that I believe needs more attention. Movies like this don't gain enough mainstream attention, which I have always found to be upsetting.
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