sat 18/11/2017

The Florida Project - bright indie flick packs a punch | reviews, news & interviews

The Florida Project - bright indie flick packs a punch

The Florida Project - bright indie flick packs a punch

Standout performances and heartfelt storytelling make this one of the films of the year

Leads Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince make an outstanding film debutMarc Schmidt

Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is a wonderful ode to childhood summers and America’s forgotten class. The film follows foul-mouthed six-year-old Moonee, who spends her days playing with friends and terrorising fellow motel residents, and her equally abrasive but likeable mother Halley. It’s an unconventional life, but it’s the best they can do with their lot.

The Florida Project is primarily a character study. At times it almost feels documentary in style, as scenes are lined up to show everyday encounters and relationships. There’s no overt mission or threat driving the story forward; we catch glimpses of how life works in the Magic Castle Motel and begin to care for those who stay there.

Kissimmee is at once beautiful and garish - a super-saturated playground

Kissimmee (where the film is set) is a gaudy collection of technicolour motels and plastic shops, a cheap recreation of Disney’s own cartoon aesthetic. Within these phoney buildings live real people – flawed and desperate, but caring and neighbourly. The film’s most recognisable star is Willem Dafoe (pictured below), refreshingly cast as the motel’s kind-hearted, put-upon manager. It’s an understated and charming performance, and one which surely puts Dafoe among favourites for Best Supporting Actor at next year’s Academy Awards.

However, the real stars of The Florida Project are its two leads: Bria Vinaite as Halley and the fantastically named Brooklynn Prince as her daughter. Both make outstanding film debuts; Vinaite is best known as an Instagram star, while Prince is only six years old. Together they form an unstoppable duo, each other’s best friend, both ready to take on the world. Their performances are invisible; were it not for the beautifully framed shots and that bloke from Spider-Man, you would swear they were real people.

The film’s story grows gradually from the interactions and decisions of its characters. Some scenes are there to establish the mood, some develop the plot, and others merely colour personalities. Not every conversation leads somewhere, but no second is wasted – everything builds a complex yet tangible world.Willem Dafoe as motel manager Bobby in The Florida ProjectSean Baker’s previous film was Tangerine, a surprise indie hit filmed on iPhones and starring real life transgender sex workers. With The Florida Project, the eye for framing that Baker hinted at comes centre stage through 35mm film. Kissimmee is at once beautiful and garish – a super-saturated playground in which the children play and the adults struggle.

The contrast between the bright colours and drab reality is mirrored in the film’s story. For the children, Kissimmee is a paradise of abandoned houses, fields and pools. There’s always someone to play with and something to break. It’s a beautiful tribute to those long, hot summer days, portrayed so naturally that you’ll forget the cold winter air waiting for you outside the cinema.

While not connected, the film feels spiritually related to Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. From its relatively unknown and young cast, to its slow and purposeful narrative, The Florida Project has a lot in common with last year’s Best Picture winner. Perhaps its topic isn’t as unexplored as Moonlight’s, but The Florida Project is filmmaking at its most pure; a simple story, affectingly told by characters that leave you aching.

@OwenRichards91

Not every conversation leads somewhere, but no second is wasted - everything builds a complex yet tangible world

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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