Sometimes films move entirely too fast. They click through scenes in quick flashes, covering the pertinent details. Other times, films can be too slow. Interminably focused on minutiae and letting a shot of a melting candle drip on screen for hours. Neither of these is the case with The Florida Project but either would almost have been preferable to the pointless stacking of scenes that had no point. It’s not a bad movie, overall, but it’s a bleak movie. And it’s a torturous movie, miring the audience in the destitute motel in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom of DisneyWorld that is the movie’s setting.
In this Florida project, kids run wild with reckless abandon, begging for ice cream, berating strangers, and a range of crimes from loitering to those much more serious. Young Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) is the alpha, the instigator, a bright, rosy face full of charm and sass. She’s the daughter of Halley (Bria Vinaite), a trashy chainsmoker who spends her days scheming for rent money just to stay in the rundown trash heap they call home. Moonee’s best friend is Scooty (Christopher Rivera), son of Ashley (Mela Murder), a waitress and pal of Halley, who live one floor below. The building is run by amiable but gruff Bobby (Willem Dafoe).
There’s no real plot. Nothing happens of any consequence until the climax. It’s just numerous vignettes of suffering. And while the final moments suggest a sense of hope, it’s rushed, an awkward choice for a movie that unfolds too slowly. Co-written, edited and directed by Sean Baker, the film follows a similar verite feel that worked so well in his film Tangerine. As beautiful as the camerawork is (and it is, despite the less than beautiful surroundings), it doesn’t elevate the bleakness, it merely magnifies it. There are two bright spots in the film. Brooklyn Prince is almost too good as the central figure. She’s natural and endearing, even as she doing terribly annoying things. With that much raw talent at such a young age, she is a true find. The other is Dafoe. Despite his aggressively gruff demeanor, Bobby is the heart of the film in many ways, with some really great moments and it’s nice to see Dafoe not play the villain, a trap he falls in way too easily sometimes.
I found the Florida Project tedious even as I loved several moments. I also felt a weird disconnect with the climax, the actions on screen looked at objectively were hopeful and just, but presented almost as the opposite. Might be more enjoyable on a lazy Saturday at home versus a busy day on the big screen.
My Grade – C+