The latest film from Sean Baker, directing once again from a script co-written with Chris Bergoch, The Florida Project is another chance to spend time with some American citizens that aren't often represented in the movies, and certainly don't get to be the lead characters.
The slight premise allows viewers to see what life is like for Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), as they spend their days in a Florida motel. Halley doesn't have much money, which really irks her when she wants to maintain a decent stock of cigarettes and drugs, and Moonee is often left to her own devices, getting up to all kinds of mischief without the fear of parental disapproval. And you also get Willem Dafoe as Bobby, the motel manager trying to run a business and look after some of his more troublesome guests (of which Halley is one).
There is a lot here that I can praise, not least of which is the fact that Baker consistently does a great job of representing the unrepresented. There are also very good performances from all involved. Vinaite and Prince work well together, with both impressively natural in their acting styles, Dafoe gives the kind of great, quieter, performance that I can't recall having seen from him in some time (although I may be forgetting some obvious recent examples), and there are also decent turns from Mela Murder, Valeria Cotto, Aiden Malik, and Edward Pagan, as well as anyone else who manages to grab a few moments of screentime.
The film also often looks gorgeous, really emphasising the juxtaposition of these lives being wasted under beautiful blue skies and a stones throw away from Walt Disney World. Viewers are shown squalid lives in an environment that most have only seen during a happy holiday season.
My main problem with The Florida Project ends up being the main characters themselves. Dafoe is superb, and arguably one of the nicest people you could have in a film like this. Unfortunately, Vinaite and Prince are portraying two of the most irritating people I have had to endure in a movie for some time. It's my own personal annoyance, and something that others may be able to overlook. There's no doubt that the people shown in this film are in a bad situation, but there's also no doubt that they seem to have given up on themselves and have decided to use their bad situation to excuse behaviour and attitudes that negatively impact on others around them. And it's that aspect of their personalities that rubs me the wrong way.
Many will disagree with me. They will say that the point of the film is to shine a spotlight on these people that we would usually avoid or ignore. I get that, which is why I appreciate the film more than I otherwise would. But I also get that people can be dealt a bad hand and drag themselves out of bed every day to face the world and reject the labels and stereotypes given to them by the rest of society. Those people won't always succeed, they may even never catch the break that they are working so hard for, but their story would, for me, make for a much better movie than this.
The Florida Project is better than Tangerine, and Baker and Bergoch also deserve a lot of praise for giving you such irritating characters and making you care even slightly by the time the surprisingly emotional final moments play out, but it's not a film I'll be rushing to revisit, or add to my own collection. I admired it, I appreciated it, but I'd never choose to watch it again.
You can buy it here.
Americans can buy it here.