The Florida Project

 

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A film which enhances the standing of Tangerine's Sean Baker even more.

 
Florida Project, The

 

Tangerine (2015) was the film that made us aware of Sean Baker: it not only revealed quite brilliantly how filming on an iPhone5S could produce fully effective big screen images but also represented the very essence of cutting edge independent cinema. Consequently I was taken aback when I saw advance footage from this new film of his, The Florida Project. Although it had once again been written by Baker and Chris Bergoch, it appeared that, set in Orlando near Disney World, it was an absolute break away from the world of Tangerine, which had at its heart two central transgender characters. This time it looked as though the film would concentrate on young children playing around in a way that suggested that it might well be a film made for youngsters.  But in the event, as the 15 certificate confirms, The Florida Project is no such thing. Instead this is a worthy adult successor to Tangerine, markedly different but even more distinguished.

 

Largely taking place in and around a motel, The Florida Project centres on a young single mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), her six-year-old daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) and the girl's best friends, Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto). Like Tangerine, this film is totally nonjudgmental towards its characters. Nevertheless, it makes it clear that Halley has no skills in bringing up a child and that the other youngsters too are adrift, the adult world around them being decidedly unsavoury: they are have-nots with little hope of a better future.

 

The life-style depicted, which stems from social conditions reflected in the location itself, is in effect all the story that there is in The Florida Project, even if there are some dramatic moments which lead to a powerful  emotional climax. It's an approach that takes this work closer to arthouse cinema than to the mainstream, but it is hugely impressive due to the film's remarkable sense of authenticity. Part of that (but only part) is down to the acting: the children, whose playfulness brings an energy to the film, are splendid, but so too are the older players. As the motel manager always keen to defuse tensions, Willem Dafoe has an unusual and extremely well-written role that enables him to give one of his very best performances, while Bria Vinaite captures perfectly the adolescent outlook of the immature mother (she put me in mind of Sasha Lane in Andrea Arnold's American Honey (2016), another film which captures the tone of life for many in modern-day America).

 

It could be argued that The Florida Project is less than perfect. At 111 minutes it is, perhaps, just a shade longer than it needs to be and, more seriously, I find something slightly inept in its conclusion - especially the choice of final image.  But, if there are flaws, they are minor: Baker and Bergoch have given us a film that vividly captures one side of American life. Furthermore, by illustrating it with scenes of children creating for better or worse their own playground out of the world around them, they do something remarkable: they ensure that viewers are reminded of their own comparable experiences and are thus linked directly with what is shown on screen even though for most the lives depicted will be utterly different from their own.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinaite, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Josie Olivo, Caleb Landry Jones, Mela Murder, Macon Blair, Sandy Kane, Carl Bradfield.

 

Dir Sean Baker, Pro Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch, Kevin Chinoy and Andrew Duncan, Screenplay Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch, Ph Alexis Zabe, Pro Des Stephonik Youth, Ed Sean Baker, Music Lorne Balfe, Costumes Fernando Rodriguez.

 

Cre Film/Freestyle Picture Company/June Pictures/Sweet Tomato Films-Altitude Film Distribution.
111mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 10 November 2017. Cert. 15.