THE FLORIDA PROJECT (2017)
CAST: BROOKLYNN PRINCE, BRIA VINAITE, WILLEM DAFOE etc.
DIRECTOR : SEAN BAKER
My previous post on WHERE THE HEART IS (2000) talked about said film’s emphasis on the working class undertow of the first world ( by extension any universal location) that a glamorous filmmaking pantheon usually shrugs aside as an afterthought. The Matt Williams directed, Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd starring feature crossed out that convention to find the sweet spot between valleys of survival, modest means and abandonment issues. It was hopeful in the most beautifully humane way, something our fractured social order needs in spades. In its thrust on a female ensemble and positive males, it gained favour as beacon of constructive individual enterprise.
On that front, THE FLORIDA PROJECT which I saw prior to WHERE THE HEART IS ended up becoming a companion piece. I talk about this acclaimed 2017 feature in this post.
Of course my first kudos are reserved for director Sean Baker who redefined independent filmmaking gravitas with his first feature TANGERINE. That debut was shot entirely on an I Phone, on the mean streets of Los Angeles with bare necessities of filmmaking but relied on the sincere voice of reason and a plain canvas absorbing nitty gritties of a nocturnal cityscape. It was a miniature portrait of the larger moral rot that big city panoramas erase in wide shots and swooning soundtracks. It’s easy to say that Baker’s sophomore feature THE FLORIDA PROJECT works on the same documentarian tone, with no background appendage of music or symbolism, just the naturalism of lives existing on the margins of popular discourse. He succeeds in generating empathy by framing his tale of the have nots, in this case a rag tag group of young people occupying a budget motel in the city of Orlando, Florida, through the eyes of the child protagonist Moonee(a winsome Brooklynn Prince)
He dissolves himself in the art of imagining the daily symmetries of those whom mainstream discourses tend to ignore. The irony is these very people, some homeless, some abandoned, others never finding a voice due to a history of poverty and educational estrangement, constitute the majority anywhere. Alas, our tidy bubbles disavow us to seek them out.
A filmmaker like Baker dares to look at them beyond archtypes , sans judgment and with the true colours of their existential truths. He finds the beauty in the irony by setting these lives against the fantastical halo of Disneyworld that the city Orlando is globally renowned for . The world outside those canonized gates begs to be seen. THE FLORIDA PROJECT opens the backyard of the world’s universal destination for amusement for a reality check. The adult world and a child’s panorama of wonder then run in parallel lines, with the motel and few locations put at the center. The candy colored city, hence, is far from a paradise. That’s real life in all its practical hues.
In fact, I think in Willem Dafoe’s tactful portrayal of the hotel manager, we find a substitute for Baker, a figure observing everything around him – the chaos, the laughs, tears, difficulty of scraping through rock bottom and much, much more . Judgements run fast and loose but he has a firm grip on the situations that push the protagonists to extremes. He can’t bail out of the life he has chosen. So can’t we once we watch this realistic gem. The power of suggestion, economical sequences and a mixture of natural warmth, tragedy and comedic linings make THE FLORIDA PROJECT a must watch. That’s how life is.
In the next post, I will write more about THE FLORIDA PROJECT.