Directed by Sean Baker, known for his highly acclaimed film Tangerine (2015) that was shot entirely on an iPhone 5s; bestowed professional equipment in hand Baker offers up a worthy film to add to his repertoire.
The Florida Project is exactly as its name suggests, based in the projects (government subsidized housing) in Florida, the film follows a short time frame of a few young children and a single mother as they struggle financially in the brightly coloured motel called the Magic Castle. Willem Dafoe plays a supporting role as the manager and somewhat of a guardian to those in the motel.
When describing the performances in this film, hyper realistic is an understatement. The child actors in this film are easily some of the most realistic depictions of real children I have seen in recent memory. Namely, the lead actress portrayed by Brooklynn Prince, she plays the role of a young girl with a mischievous attitude and quick temper; accompanying her there’s a complete breakout performance from Bria Vinaite as she plays the role of the free-spirited and irresponsible single mother. Ultimately what we’re left with between these two actresses is a searing chemistry that forms both a distinct mother/daughter bond and by nature almost a sibling bond due to the mother’s young age and childish impulses. The children in this film feel like children, sound like children, and act like children – just as the single mother acts wildly impulsive and immature she remains consistent in that character right down to her mannerisms. This film isn’t afraid to show the ups and downs, right and wrongs that are made, and will inevitably leave you in partial conflict by the film’s conclusion.
I will say this outright, the cinematography and colours in this film stand firmly at the top with the greats of this year – everything is filmed in a highly intimate fashion, with the camera closely following the characters in continuous uncut shots through halls, alleys, rooms, and courtyards; the camera hovers throughout the entire motel and you begin to intuitively understand the layout of the entire location. We get glistening sunsets, breath-taking camerawork throughout the endless amounts of centered shots on comedically goofy buildings with backstories for them to add to the mix. The murky rundown suburbs of Florida are contrasted perfectly by the campy and brightly pastel coloured buildings. The architecture is never shy to show its face, displaying the remnants of the beach inspired art deco aesthetic abandoned decades ago, there’s age, history, and nostalgia in every building throughout this film.
Sean Baker’s films are beginning to show their true and consistent flavours – his focus has become clearer with The Florida Project, almost as if he is trying to send a message to his audience about the rougher side of low-income areas. His films often focus on showing the harsh reality of scraping by in low economic neighborhoods; more specifically, how individuals, families, and outcasts make their living and how poor decision-making can result in morbid and irreversible consequences. Simply put, Sean Baker is attempting to show us a grittier side of street life through his strikingly realistic characters.
The Florida Project is the embodiment of quality film on a low budget – proving that great film can be produced if you have the talent and creativity. This film leaves you with plenty to think about in terms of living a rough life, but also how their own bad decisions can often be their greatest obstacles. With hyper realistic performances and a dazzling colour palette – The Florida Project bestows audiences with an intimate look at a human experience from multiple perspectives, all offering you different levels of insight.