Sean Baker is the writer/director/producer for The Florida Project and is eager to showcase his talents with this low budget independent drama. This is where his career currently lives and there’s nothing wrong with that. Starlet (2012) and Tangerine (2015) were both done on micro-budgets but each was well received by audiences. One thing you’ll notice with his films is that he tries to capture the raw intensity of what’s going on and he doesn’t hold back. His latest will a little bit different, if for no other reason than the fact that main plot surrounds kids under the age of ten. That said, he still has an edge and you can be sure that this one will also earn its R rating.
School’s out for summer, and for the residents living a lower income area of southern Florida, trouble seems to be at every turn. Motel life has its own set of unique challenges, including living in close quarters and being virtually forced to interact with neighbors. It’s the young kids, led by a real troublemaker named Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), that literally have the run of the place, much to the dismay of some of the surrounding community. Even though they are very short distance from Disney World, their financial status makes this an impossible destination spot for fun and adventure. So, these kids make due with what they have and create their own fun. It’s up to the adults to keep them in check, but when some of the adults, such as Moonee’s mom (Bria Vinaite), aren’t mature enough to give proper guidance, that’s when the false walls of happiness and complacency start to crumble. Bobby (Willem Dafoe) is the one person that constantly trying to keep everything together, but even he can only do so much.
The Florida Project is not a cookie-cutter bland plot movie. It’s built solely on its story and the strong performances by the talent involved. Aside from Willem Dafoe, there is not a lot of fanfare to be had with this cast of new actors. The kids steal the show. Brooklynn Prince and Valeria Cotto are hell on wheels (along with a few other child actors), and they drive the movie. Transitioning to the supposed “adults”, Bria Vinaite leads the way here. Even though she’s a newcomer, she rocks it as a teen mom. Babies raising babies. Willem Dafoe is the strong stable link that holds everything together. If this was a passion project for the veteran actor, he sure brings a lot of passion to get the job done. This handyman is hands on in making sure everyone hits their spots.
Audiences may learn a thing or two about how the other side lives, and this may start to turn a sympathetic eye to what those without go through while those that already “have” take their gifts for granted. The Florida Project attacks head-on without hesitation. And while this may not be a very marketable approach, what’s being sold is worth buying.
One personal challenge that I had with this movie is the behavior of these young kids and the lack of supervision by some of the parents at times. I’m putting that out there just to paint a picture that as impartial as I try to be when reviewing movies, this action got under my skin. Funny thing, this is when I stopped and thought about it for a minute. Sean Baker pulled emotions out of me that I wasn’t even aware that I had. The Florida Project is a great movie because it’ll pull you in and you don’t even realize it. The story is pretty simple but it’s told with great conviction and authenticity. This is one that may surprise a people by the time that awards start to get handed out. You should definitely check it out at some point on some platform, whether it be in theaters or at home.