“The Florida Project”

“The Florida Project”
Directed by Sean Baker

Florida_Project_01I’ve had to sit with this one for some time.  While I was watching it, my emotional response to the film wavered somewhere between bored and annoyed – something I never felt during Baker’s fantastic “Tangerine” from 2015. When a film starts with kids screaming for a full ten minutes, I must confess, in my personal life, I prefer dogs to children. If I wanted screaming kids running around on the loose, I’d go to Target on a Saturday afternoon.

Still, there were aspects that I was more than enamored with, most notably the look of the film. Alexis Zabe’s cinematography combined with the manner in which Baker frames his shots, makes for a sumptuous looking film. And if you can turn the underbelly of the ugliest and most heavily-touristed part of the country in to something gorgeous and hypnotic, then you deserve accolades. Also, the choice to shoot the strange environs of dying, or abandoned, tourist traps way out on the fringes of the Disney/Universal Park-machine was hypnotic. Much in the same way that Mariano Llinas’ usage of architecture in his four-hour masterpiece from 2008, “Historias Extraordinarias” is (which is now available on muti.com – get the free trial and watch it – it’s in my Top Twenty!!). But these positives weren’t enough to overcome the overbearing tedium the film left me with. This was troubling, since so many critics, friends and strangers have told me how much they loved the film. So, I decided to wait and see if some distance wouldn’t change my view.

And the answer to that question is, no, not especially. I certainly have more respect for the film, and I understand why the stated positives I’ve read exist, even if I don’t agree with them. Mostly these directly correlate to a viewers’  similar childhood experiences or the empathy that the film brings out in young parents who can’t help but see their own children in these characters. But…really…neither of these aspects landed on me at all.

And, worse still, the adult acting in the film, in its attempt to be as “real” as possible ends up sacrificing tension and arc for yelling and “living”. Dafoe is terrific…but he doesn’t have anywhere to go. He is merely present, or, rather, a presence in the film, acting as the motel’s Man-Behind-the-Curtain. That he manages to evoke a human connection with the audience in spite of this speaks to his expertise. But, while others have lauded Bria Vinaite’s performance, I found it to be fairly devoid of anything other than anger…especially in scenes with Valeria Cotto…an anger that gets dull fast. It’s as if she watched “Tangerine” thirty times and thought, “I’ll be just like them!” It doesn’t work. The children fair far better, especially our protagonist, and new “It” child star, Brooklynn Prince. Her performance is as obnoxious as it should be, and as real as any child performance you’ll see this year. Instead of being asked to evoke adult feelings in a smaller package (which is what most directors ask of their child stars), she makes laughing and playing look like…uh…genuine laughing and playing. Her performance is  the only thing that makes the third act land with any power (even if it should have landed with more). Special mention to two minor characters, Josie Olivo, as the only adult parent that feels real, and Carl Bradfield, whose character I’d rather not reveal.

I’d mention the film’s score, but, truly, there is so little scoring in the film, when it does rear its inconsequential head, it completely takes you out of the movie .

I don’t know…if you were raised in a household where you were expected to make your own fun, or you have small children of your own, then you’ll probably connect with this film in a satisfying way – much like “Childhood” did. For the rest of us, the pretty pictures and interesting cultural architecture, which would make for a really interesting short doc, can’t keep one invested for two hours – much like “Childhood” didn’t (well, three hours for that film). Wish I had a better experience to share.

Written on 1/10/2018

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