“The best movie you will see this year.”, said one of the most famous popstars in the music industry. That was a quote by the singer/rapper, Drake. He was remarking an indie film directed by a somewhat obscure man whose previous work includes a feature length movie shot entirely on the iPhone 5S. The director, Sean Baker, has proved himself to be a filmmaker to keep an eye on, with his new movie, The Florida Project.
First, The Florida Project premiered at the TIFF 2017 Film Festival to widespread acclaim. It is considered to be one of the greatest movies of the year, and has been called, “a loving look at the innocence of childhood”, “destined to be one of the remembered films about childhood”, and many other praises about the film’ portrayal of childhood. Regardless of this, and the energetic trailer that displays a large amount of quirkiness and sweetness, the film is not just about childhood. It is much more complex than that.
The Florida Project is mainly about a child, Moonee, being raised by her young, single mother on the outskirts of Disneyland. They are poor and have to live in a hotel. They live off of buying perfume from a pharmacy, then selling the perfume to random strangers., and the mother, Halley, has a friend who provides a weekly portion of food from the restaurant she works at. Moving on, I had certain concerns and certain hopes for this movie when I walked in the Angelika Film Center last week.
For example, I knew that this movie was destined to have beautiful visuals and cinematography. After all, the film, Tangerine, directed by the same director as The Florida Project, was recorded on an iPhone 5S and it looks very cinematic and vibrant. So I couldn’t even imagine how good a movie shot by this director, in the 35mm film format, could look. However, I was worried that the cinematography would drown out the story.
Next, I was worried about the way the child actors were being directed. Although child acting has improved so significantly over the year (many children have been downright Oscar-worthy), there is a tendency to rely too much on the actors being cutesy and adorable, rather than giving a performance. Fortunately, I can say that most of my hopes were met and most of my doubts were not needed. The Florida Project has been called one of the best films of the year by many and it rightfully earns that title.
First of all, not only was the cinematography beautiful, but it was used in a clever way to show perspectives and build the world of the movie. When children are present on screen, there are a lot of aesthetically pleasing wide shots, which make the setting feel enormous, similar to how children view the world as a big and full of possibilities. However, as I said before, it takes place on the outskirts of Disneyland, near a motel, and it is pretty small. Connecting back to the brilliant use of cinematography, there is a sequence in this film that consists entirely of the adults, and there is not a single wide shot during this sequence. The camera is close up and personal.
Secondly, the writing in this movie is just fantastic, but it does have flaws. The characters in this movie aren’t characters. They’re real people. Moonee is a fun, lively six year old, and her young mother is complex and damaged. The film doesn’t hold back at all in terms of writing. The kids in this movie commit some unlikable acts, such as spitting on a stranger’s car and causing other trouble (Including one very serious accident that occurs due to children simply being stupid.) Halley can also be considered by some to be a bad parent, but in reality, she is trying her hardest to provide, even if that means she needs to do things that wouldn’t be pleasant for herself.
Willem Dafoe’s character is a supporting one, but he is the one character in this movie that people will love unconditionally, unlike the other sophisticated characters that will be loved, but also pitied. Bobby, played by Willem, is a good guy. It’s as simple as that. He tries to provide for others, is loving to the kids, and just a selfless person in general. There is a particular scene where he commits a heroic act, and it makes one want to cheer. Like the other characters in this film, their backstories aren’t gone over, audiences are just able to figure out their situation.
The directing in this movie was perfect, the movie doesn’t have a lot of music in it, and it is directed so it feels like an experience, rather than a time at the movies. The acting is phenomenal. There are 3 main performances that NEED to be nominated for Oscars.
The first performance is Brooklyn Prince. She is so natural in her acting. She’s funny at the right times, and can bring you to tears when she needs to. I don’t know if the Academy is just not used to nominating child actors that MUST have an Oscar (Jacob Tremblay in Room, for example), but Brooklyn Prince HAS to get nominated. She’s earned the golden statue.
Next performance is Willem Dafoe. As expected, he gives one of the best performances of his career. One of the main reasons Bobby is so likable as a character is because of this man’s performance. The Academy should do us all a favor, and give Willem his long overdue Oscar!
Finally, the last performance is Bria Vinaite’s. And there is just not enough praise to give to this actress. The performance she gives is the type of performance that acting was invented for. It’s the performance that makes someone inspired to become an actor/actress. I would say Bria Vinaite gives the best performance in this movie. It’s even more impressive, considering that this was her first movie. She had no clue about anything worked. It would be outrageous if she wasn’t nominated.
As for flaws, the main flaw in this film is the ending. I understood what Sean Baker was trying to go for, but for me, the ending didn’t work. It was abrupt and disappointing. Had this movie been about 30 minutes longer, it could’ve continued the amazing story and gotten its perfect ending. Had it not been for this flaw, I would’ve considered this to be the best-written movie I’ve seen this year, so far. Another flaw is the beginning. The movie opens well, and is enjoyable. But, it takes a while to introduce the characters and setting. During a large portion of the first act, the movie will be showing montages of characters just doing things that wouldn’t be considered important events since they don’t amount to much, other than the spitting-on-the-car incident. However, once the story starts, the movie picks up the pace and gets better and better (and darker, too.)
In conclusion, The Florida Project is a must-see for film fans. It is currently playing in select theaters. If you aren’t interested in watching Thor: Ragnarok this weekend, please try to find a theater near you playing this movie! It deserves all the money we, as an audience, can give it.
This is my first official movie review. Unlike other reviewers, I do not give ratings or grades to movies, since I find them pointless and arbitrary. Also, readers tend to just scroll down to find the rating, rather than reading the actual review, to see how good a movie is. The reason I believe this to be true is because I am guilty of it, myself.