A couple of years ago, there was a film that many thought would change the way movies were to be made. It was called “Boyhood,” an ambitious film that covered the lives of the characters which the actors would portray over the span of an entire decade. There were moments, within the story, in which the average audience member would expect something to transpire, but then it would not. You see, in the real world, exciting things do not always happen at inopportune times, as they do in the movies. This made for a very realistic film, but not a very interesting one, either.
“The Florida Project” is, possibly, the next such movie which is aiming to play out like a real-life documentary. It is in the same vein as “Boyhood,” in other words. What makes this particular film different is the level of drama and action which surround these characters. The vast majority of us like to see drama and action, whether we care to admit to it or not, from a safe distance, both figuratively and literally. Now, imagine what that experience might be like for the minority of our society, who deal with that same drama and action, but from a very close and personal perspective.
The movie is directed and co-written by Sean Baker (“Tangerine”). Chris Bergoch (“Starlet”) gets the other writing credit. The two, also, are among the film’s list of producers and Baker handled the editing portion, as well. Although I know of at least two critics who were not pleased with the length of the movie, I had no issue with that aspect, myself. To me, a film can only be too short or too long when the viewer has not made a personal investment with one or more of the characters in the story. Well, that seems to be the case with “The Florida Project,” anyways.
Willem Dafoe (“The Great Wall”) is Bobby Hicks, a manager at The Magic Castle Motel. Being the immersive role that this was, Dafoe really approached his performance with a great level of detail, as the film likely called for. I almost got the feeling that he actually lived the life of his character while the movie was in production. You might find a whole new level of respect for the people who perform such duties in our world. As we all know, often times our job requires us to fulfill duties that are not in the description, but if they are not met, who will take them on?
The filmmakers decided to go with a cast of mostly unfamiliar actors and actresses. Given the nature of the story, I think that was a good decision. Outside of Willem Dafoe, I recognized virtually nobody from elsewhere. However, Caleb Landry Jones (“American Made”) was spotted, though in just a handful of scenes, as the manager’s son. Macon Blair (“Gold”) made a small appearance, as well.
Outside of Dafoe, the focus of the story largely centers around a pair of permanent residents at the motel: Halley, played by Bria Vinaite, and Moonee, played by Brooklynn Kimberly Prince. They are a mother and her daughter. As the plot unfolds, the two of them get fairly equal screen time, but the importance of their roles are quite different. For Moonee, she is mostly just enjoying life as a child. Most of her behavior is not unusual, but even at an early age, the viewer will see the impact her mother has had on her already. It is possible that some of these scenes could have been cut down or even removed completely, but perhaps the movie makers were intent on having as much comic relief as possible. Personally, I did not find much of it enjoyable. As for Halley, she lives much like a child in her own respect, but within the body of a grownup. Despite the responsibilities she has to contend with, she functions very little as an adult. Her emotions are unchecked and her actions are mainly based in survival instincts, but why?
Well, that, I would say, is left up to the audience. There is no room for preachy messages in “The Florida Project.” If you feel uncomfortable by with some of the moments throughout the film, do not let that sway your experience of the movie, itself. Consider it a call to think about why you are feeling the way you do and do not hesitate to deal with any of that as you leave the theater.
I must admit, I do not wish for this type of film to become THE wave of the future for movie making, but I would not object if this were representative of ONE wave, if you understand. Truthfully, I believe films need to remain largely as a mode of escape from our real lives and although this is certainly not a reality that most of us deal with, I do not consider “The Florida Project” an viable escape for most movie-goers. It is a film that will leave many scratching their heads, particularly with the abrupt ending, but the majority of what goes on should make a lot of people think. Dare I say that even though this is not the best movie I have seen in 2017, I can safely say it might be the most important one. Do not be surprised if you find “The Florida Project” on a lot of lists when award season comes around.
Director: Sean Baker
Screenwriters: Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Kimberly Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto as Jancey, Christopher Rivera as Scooty, Caleb Landry Jones and Macon Blair
Release: October 20th, 2017