Monday, October 16, 2017

Movie with Abe: The Florida Project

The Florida Project
Directed by Sean Baker
Released October 6, 2017

In order to make a movie and have it be successful, you usually need a clear-cut premise. Having known stars can help too, since marketing is considerably easier if potential viewers can latch on to recognizable elements or an alluring plot. Every once in a while, however, there’s an independent film that deals very intimately with characters just living their lives. The reputation of a filmmaker and positive word-of-mouth buzz drives the ultimate reception of such a film, and “The Florida Project” is a knockout that’s hard to describe but makes an incredibly powerful and lasting impression.

Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is a six-year-old who lives in a motel room in Orlando just outside Disney World with her unemployed and relatively unmotivated mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). She spends most of her days spitting on car windshields, compelling tourists to buy her ice cream, and causing trouble around the motel with her friends Jancey (Valeria Cotto) and Scooty (Christopher Rivera), who lives one floor down with his mother, Ashley (Mela Murder), who works at Waffle House and brings food out the back door for the kids and Halley to eat. As Moonee runs free around the motel and its surrounding area each day, manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) tries his best to keep things in order, enforcing the roles while harboring a soft spot for the troublesome kids and for the always late-on-rent and rarely friendly Halley.

This film is a captivating experience which doesn’t quite show the world through the eyes of a child but instead follows a child who is allowed to run wild each and every day, expressing her curiosity and a certain maturity defined by foul language, rude behavior, and fierce friendship but lacking in life experience. While Ashley holds down her day job and brings home some money, Halley displays no such resolve, and therefore she acts however she feels in front of her daughter and anyone else with whom she crosses paths. Bobby works well as a stand-in of sorts for the audience, someone who sees what it is like for people who have essentially become permanent residents of the motel, legally required to stay elsewhere for a night each month, and also interacts with the world outside, including one effective scene in which he forcefully chases away a suspected pedophile who walks over to the children playing outside the motel.

This film evokes favorable comparisons to both “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “American Honey,” allowing its very young female protagonist the spotlight to tremendous effect like the former and showcasing an underrepresented segment of the population that treats money and mobility in a fascinating way like the latter. Like those two films, this succeeds wondrously as a portrait of those who drive their own experiences and shape their own lives. Every cast member is terrific, and while Dafoe, the only known actor in the cast, is the one earning Oscar buzz, any one of them, especially the children, would be deserving. Sean Baker’s direction and Alexis Zabe’s cinematography contribute wonderfully to a film that never loses its focus and lives in each moment, whether it’s one that captures the poverty in which its characters live or the sheer joy they find in simple shenanigans. This is a fully engaging and immersive experience, a triumph for independent filmmaking that proves instantly memorable and immensely poignant.


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