The Florida Project movie poster
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The Florida Project
The Florida Project movie poster

The Florida Project Movie Review

It takes mad filmmaking skill to craft a movie where you want to punch the main characters in the face most of the time—yes, including children—and still have it be one of the best of the year. The Florida Project, Sean Baker’s follow-up to his criminally underseen drama-comedy Tangerine, paints a vividly real and utterly engrossing portrayal of poverty in Orlando, mere miles from the happiest place on Earth.

The movie centers on young Moonee, played brilliantly by 7-year-old Brooklynn Prince, and her carefree and emotionally stunted mother Halley (first-timer Bria Vinaite), as they scrape by in a pay-per-week hotel in the shadow of Disneyworld. Halley finds cash where she can get it and is largely unconcerned by her daughter’s misbehavior (the movie starts with Moonee and her friend repeatedly spitting on a neighbor’s car, and then calling the neighbor a “fucking cunt” or something along those lines).

Meanwhile, hotel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) faces various crises that emerge day after day.

It’s hard to describe the plot of The Florida Project and make it sound worthwhile—the film offers up a snapshot “life in the day” picture of people staying at a hotel—but the simple truth is that the movie is simply really, really good. Like Tangerine, the movie is fantastically written and directed and features interesting, unique, memorable and unequivocally flawed characters. Baker brings to life a fully realized world in the span of two hours. He draws you in immediately, introducing you to his seemingly grating, trashy characters and then convinces you why you should care about them.

The performances all around are top-notch, with everyone involved delivering award-worthy turns. Prince portrays a child on the edge, an innocent girl who is young enough to be naïve to the world around her yet old, and certainly seasoned enough, to be aware of her circumstances. Her life could tip in one of two ways, and she teeters between both. Never once do you question Prince’s sincerity.

Vinaite is equally strong as a complex, challenging character who is hard to love but impossible to hate. While more attention may be given to Prince given her young age, Vinaite delivers in her debut a performance that many seasoned actors are still seeking.

Dafoe is also excellent as he offers up both a modicum of sanity to the picture and another fully developed character who works tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the best for his residents, despite their seeming unwillingness to help themselves.

The Florida Project is a near-perfect film save for its final 30 seconds, in which Baker makes the odd decision to abruptly end his film in a way that may have worked had he set things up better earlier on—but that unfortunately just feels like a “can’t decide how to end this movie so I’m just going to end it” move. Those 30 seconds don’t really mar the film, and yet you can tell Baker viewed his ending as magical in some way. It isn’t.

Simply put, The Florida Project is one of the best movies of 2017.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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