Sean Baker / USA / 2017 / 115 mins
At the Cameo cinema from Fri 10 Nov 2017
Sean Baker follows up his 2015 hit Tangerine with The Florida Project – another funny but tragic look at the struggles of living in modern America, falling somewhere between American Honey and Boyhood. Once again teaming up with co-writer Chris Bergoch, Baker’s film follows adventurous six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) who lives in a cheap motel near Disney Land Florida with her caring but volatile mother Halley (Bria Vinaite).
As with Baker’s earlier work, the film has an aimless tone, with Moonee spending her days creating mischief and pulling pranks on motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe), while Halley desperately finds ways to pay their rent.
The performances are exceedingly naturalistic, with many improvised scenes creating a sense of realism not far from what Ken Loach and Mike Leigh have achieved over the years. Prince as Moonee is a revelation with an endearing and at times hilarious performance well beyond her years. Vinaite (who Baker found on Instagram) is utterly convincing as the self-destructive Halley, while Dafoe as Bobby creates a character who, while being the stubborn authority figure, is also warm and caring towards the children staying in the motel.
Though the film could easily be described as having kitchen sink aesthetics, it also has a dreamy and surreal tone from some stellar work by cinematographer Alexis Zabe. The colours are vibrant and bright, while the cameras are often kept at the children’s height, almost as if it is seen through their eyes.
One moment heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny the next, the film juggles the shifts in tone with perfection. Working as both a study of childhood innocence and an indictment on poverty in America, The Florida Project is a fierce and empathetic piece of film-making, focusing on an often ignored working class and making them wholly relatable.