The Florida Project (2017)
Director: Sean Baker
Writer: Sean Baker
Actors: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe
As the Oscars is creeping up on us, local cinemas have been pumping out nominated films from 2017 like there's no tomorrow. It's gotten so crazy that I can't even find the time to watch them all, and I'm on vacation. Nevertheless, out of several good movies out there, The Florida Project really grabbed my attention for some reason. As with most of the films I go to, I really did not know anything about this film. I never watched any Sean Baker film before and haven't ever heard of him. All I knew was the the trailer made it look really colorful and well shot. The trailer also did not reveal too much which is something I hate about modern film trailers. Nevertheless, I went in with zero expectations and got out feeling very pleased about what I just watched. It was a breath of fresh air and I couldn't stop thinking about it for the next couple of days. That's when I realized this was a pretty good film, which is why you should go and see it.
I got into the theater to watch this film, and I look around and see no one. Literally no one in the theater. As the trailers begin I see one couple come in and that's about it for the audience at the time. It felt strange to watch a film with such an empty theater, but I understand the demands of people and what they enjoy. Nevertheless, the film begins and I am taken aback for the first 10 minutes of the film. The film felt very random, and it was as if it was just a bunch of random clips in the life of these people. I felt confused. However after a couple of minutes I got used to it, and saw the reason for it. The films gives us just enough for us to relate to the characters and the lives that they live. The whole film felt like a huge jigsaw puzzle where we never got every piece in the box. The film gave us essential pieces and we had to fill in the gaps in order to create the bigger picture. Which I thought was an excellent way of making this film. For example, the guy helping Bobby bring down the ice machine gives us a small hint at Bobby's life when he says "I told her you said Happy Birthday". In which Bobby gets angry and tells him that he didn't say that. The film never goes on to explain this scene or the backstory of Bobby. However, we are able to fill in the gaps. We can infer that maybe this guy is Bobby's son and he is talking about his mom, who obviously seems to have a bad relationship with Bobby. The film never dwells on every small detail, it knows that the audience is smart enough to fill in the gaps and understand what is happening. Similar to the fact when we constantly see Moonee in the shower between scenes. At first we don't realize what is going on. Then we slowly find out the reason. This aspect of the film is in my opinion it's strongest asset and what makes it special. The film is as I said, a puzzle where the missing pieces are the best part, because we get to imagine how they look like.
Another aspect that really helped elevate the film aside from the scattered story is the acting. It was surprising to hear that many of the actors in this film aren't even professionals. Most notably Brooklyn Price as Moonee and Bria Vinaite as Halley are both acting for the first time. Which is insane to me because they did an incredible job. Their roles felt so believable and natural. The way they acted made me feel like I was there with them, and that there was no screen between me and them. Their chemistry together as well shined on screen and was very infectious. Their relationship, although very distraught and damaged was at times very heartwarming and managed to grab my attention. Not only were the first timers great, but seasoned veterans such as Willam Dafoe did an outstanding job. Dafoe is the type of actor you usually see in films, you know him, you recognize him, but you never really remember a role he did. Maybe Green Goblin in the first spider-man but that isn't really saying much. In this film, he really managed to stand out. His role was played well and felt as natural as the actors playing for the first time. I did not see Dafoe on screen, rather I saw Bobby, which is what you want when you watch a film, to separate the actor from the character. These performances coupled with the intriguing and scattered plot are the two greatest elements of this film, and they should be enough reason for you to go and watch this film.
The film also gives off a very colorful and pretty feeling, which is ironic because of the situations the characters are in. Nevertheless, the film reminded me a lot of Wes Anderson. With the very bold colors popping out of every corner of the screen, to the way of framing shots to focus on the center. This is not to say that Baker just copied Anderson's style, but there certainly are influences throughout the film. The films style along with the minimalist soundtrack helped with having this homey feel to the film. It makes the audience connect to the characters more and more which I really enjoyed.
Now for my biggest gripe with this film. I feel like this aspect of the film will split people down a clear line. You will either love it, or hate it. I don't think there will be anyone who is just indifferent to this aspect of the film. The thing I'm talking about is the ending. I know some people really like the ending and think it is perfect for this film. But I just can't feel that. I read some of the theories and the reasoning's that people had. Some people said its the ultimate fantasy dream that they have been wishing for, which is why it looks weird. Others say it is a break from the film into reality since it is filmed with an iPhone camera. The theory that I guess makes most sense to me is that everytime something bad or "real" happens, Halley or whoever is always trying to shield the kids by giving them something else to focus on. Like Moonee taking a bath while Halley is doing you know what. So I guess since the worst thing happened, that should be coupled with the best thing they can think of to take their minds off of it, which is Disneyland. This theory makes the most sense to me, but I still don't like the ending. Just the way it happened felt so random and out of place. Which is ironic since this whole movie is random, but the ending in particular was over the top. When the ending happened, I literally spoke out loud in the theater and just said "What was that". I felt so unsatisfied and somewhat cheated. I would have been happier if they just cut it when Moonee was crying. Furthermore, I just can't wrap my head around the use of an iPhone camera for the ending. It really ruined my immersion. Some people justify it as a break from the norm and what not. But it just didn't work for me. I kept on thinking about it for the next couple of days after watching the film, but no matter how hard I tried to spin it, I just couldn't. This is obviously just my opinion. I can see how some people can love this, but its personally not for me.
With all the hate I gave the ending, The Florida Project is a very good film. If you know anything about my taste you would know that this sort of film is right up my alley. Personal, colorful, memorable, and very natural. It has so many elements that I look for in a film. There are obviously some minor gripes I have with some parts but I dont think its right to start nitpicking. I would rather tell you what I enjoyed from this film, because I do feel it is something worth watching. All in all, The Florida Project is a film where being incomplete is the best way of presenting a story. The empty void between the known is what makes this film shine.