The Florida Project
Starring Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Caleb Landry Jones
I hesitate to call filmmaker Sean Baker a director. An observer, would describe what he does better. Following Tangerine, the i-phone shot, transsexual indie hit, comes his latest, The Florida Project. Shot on a more traditional camera, the concept of observation remains the same. Outside of Oscar nominated Willem Dafoe (The Great Wall, John Wick), the only other reason worth enduring this exposition of everything wrong with modern American culture, is the discovery of child actress Brooklynn Prince. Baker, again takes us into the disreputable parts of America, trashy behavior contrasts with vibrant colors where an unfit mother recklessly raises her daughter in a motel.
It’s the wrong magic castle in Florida. This one painted a horrendous deep shade of purple is home to those who can’t afford apartment prices. Elementary age kids living with their out of work and destitute parents, run wild, spitting on cars, terrorizing the management and causing constant headaches for any adult in their path. Moonee (Prince) lives with her blue haired, tattooed mother Hailey in room 323. Magic Castle manager Bobby (Dafoe) tries to help the single, negligent mother out when he can. Guests are not allowed to set up residence, but he has a workaround. Hailey and Moonee make rent by soliciting whole sale merchandise in parking lots. When that fails, she results to more dangerous methods. Whenever mommy has a guest, Moonee must stay in the bath. Moonee spends most of her days making life harder for Bobby, who seems all too willing to have mercy on the children.
Every moment Dafoe is on screen elevates the film.
“You’re having way too much fun. This is supposed to be punishment,” the grandmother at the neighboring motel says. Moonee and friends are forced to clean all their loogies from her car sitting below. The first half of the film is what you see in the trailer, cute kids doing shameful things. This is funny for a time, with Prince really stealing the movie with the adorable smile. Every moment Dafoe is on screen elevates the film. His part seems scripted, where everything else runs on improvisation. The energy fades quickly when you realize there isn’t much narrative here. It’s just characters existing. Baker’s presentation of poor, desperate America resembles American Honey from last year. It becomes tedious as we watch Moonee and her friends get in and out of the same situations until finally, consequences arrive.
Similar themes between The Florida Project and Tangerine, include poverty, prostitution and two female characters starting out as best friends and completely disintegrating. The children are also given too much intelligent credit, especially in the ending, where we seem to switch back to i-phone mode for a few munities. Baker puts stories, lives and scenarios on screen that give an imagined, behind the scenes look, at how guests on the Jerry Springer show might live. He relishes in the disgusting, and the viewer isn’t sure whether to laugh, cry or feel shocked. Despite the energy in the trailer, this film isn’t entertainment, it’s more shock value and existing in a world that most filmmakers would never put on the big screen.
Colorfully brings the audience into a world that would rather not experience.