Friday, 10 November 2017

The Florida Project review

I check out the follow up to Sean Baker's Tangerine after the jump!

Stunning cinematography...
Plastic castles, fluffy mascots, and overpriced food: Disneyland is a relic of the past that the western world, for whatever reason, has never been able to shake. It’s a vice of family life, a marker of wealth, and a home away from home. Within its walls lies a microcosm of society, from those struggling to get by in cheap affiliated motels, to well-dressed social climbers in their (fake) ivory towers.
The Florida Project does not concern itself with this ecosystem, but rather a very particular by-product of it. Out with Disney, in with the relative squalor of the state, broken families try to survive on welfare within a maze of multicoloured motels, escalating dumpster fires, and drug abuse. Yet, in an ingenious twist, Sean Baker decides to shoot his film solely from the perspective of a group of children living in a disparate array of cheap accommodation – lending The Florida Project an air of poignancy and relatability despite its specific setting.
In this way we follow two very different stories. The first is of effervescent, sparkling adventure: Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and Scooty (Christopher Rivera) run around on lazy summer days, messing with motel owner Bobby (Willem Dafoe) and making friends. It’s a magical story of childhood innocence, imagination, and blissful fun. The second is somewhat tougher to stomach. Moonee’s mother (Bria Vinaite) loses grip on life – tumbling into deeper and deeper poverty; forcing Moonee to help her sell discount perfumes outside a low-level Disney hotel to make rent; and eventually slipping into more sinister habits which begin to threaten the safety of both herself and her daughter. Although this second story is rarely presented onscreen, we’re always aware of it ticking away in the background, and when the two worlds collide, it’s an inevitable yet heart-breaking moment of sincerity.
Extreme saturation...
Baker loses track of his narrative at the end, seemingly feeling the need for an ending greater than the sum of his parts so far and coming up with a fantastically overwrought, cheap-looking (returning to filming on iPhone I believe), and nonsensical scene which left the majority of the screening confused. Even simply cutting the film would have had much greater coherency and impact than this attempt at tear-jerking magical realism.
However, we must not let the last three minutes of a film ruin our experience of the rest of it. The standard of acting throughout it is career-best worthy, and given that most of these players are first-time workers, that bodes incredibly well for their futures. Willem Dafoe has had a history of great roles (The Last Temptation of Christ, anyone?), and this one is no exception. With every appearance, he highlights another aspect of Bobby: he’s frustrated and short-tempered, but kind and amicable – even in one scene showing himself to be incredibly loyal and protective.
Similarly, the cinematography of Alexis Zabe is a sickly sweet, candy-coloured swirl of pastel multicolour – enveloping the audience in that garish Disney glow, and allowing the more surreal aspects of living at the foot of the American dream to come to the fore. The Florida Project feels, visually, as if its characters have become caught up in the vortex of the nearby resort: castle-shaped houses, fairytale-named streets, and cartoon iconography are littered everywhere, as if debris violently expelled from the Magic Kingdom itself.
In the end, what we have with The Florida Project is the remarkable work that manages to handle multiple layers of narrative with naturalistic ease. It’s a colourful, affecting, and poignant tale that defies easy description, but leaves the viewer with some enhanced sense of humanity and what it means to be a person.
The Florida Project gets 4 stars!

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