The Magical Filmmaking That Is “The Florida Project” And Sean Baker

By Scott Kurland

Film: The Florida Project

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinaite, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones, and Mela Murder

Rated R

Director: Sean Baker

 There is one certainty in Hollywood... film-making is an extremely difficult  business for everyone involved. Regardless of whether the film is good, bad, or truly terrible (like anything made by Happy Madison), all directors experience some kind of challenge during the process. Some are able to overcome, while others hit a wall and are left with nowhere to go. In fact, there’s at least four movies Sandler wanted to make that were so bad his company simply refused to make them. That’s why, when a creative talent like Sean Baker comes on the scene, people should be basking in his magnificence. Baker has directed three films “Starlet,” “Tangerines,” and this week’s film “The Florida Project.”  Each of these films are terrific in their own unique way. Now, let’s find out what makes “The Florida Project” so great shall we?

     “The Florida Project” is the story of Moonee (Brooklynn Prince); a six year-old girl living within the confines of a Disney knock-off gypsy hotel in Florida. Moonee’s life is not ideal, but she would never know this because she's too busy causing trouble with her two best friends Scooty and Jancey (Christopher Rivera & Valeria Cotto). Moonee’s mom Halley (Bria Vinaite) meanwhile, is just as troublesome as her offspring. Halley spends her days watching trash TV, selling knock-off perfumes, and other things of a more personal nature. Caught in the middle of all this drama is the hotel manager Bobby (played to perfection by Willem Dafoe). Bobby is a broken white knight guarding his trashy kingdom and doing his best to protect this mother/daughter duo.

I loved this film. I love every glorious gritty frame of this tough pill. What makes “The Florida Project” so good is that these characters remain unaware that their lives are tragedies masked as comedies. Or, if they are aware of it, then they don’t care and are simply trying to make the best of their existence. All of Bakers films show different ways of living and how people are able to get through this thing called life. The way Baker tells his story is not through the lens of harsh reality, but also through child-like innocence. Moonee is our main protagonist and we see “The Florida Project” through her eyes. We figure things out when she does, and that’s why this film is so fantastic because we have a great guide in the form of a six year old girl.

                Six-year old Brooklynn Prince’s Moonee is the cutest little trouble maker since Kevin McCallister in “Home Alone.”  Prince’s performance is something truly special. I genuinely don’t know if she’s acting or just being a child while the cameras roll. I wouldn’t be shocked if she was nominated for an Oscar. She’d be one of the youngest actress to receive the honor, but it would be well deserved. Prince isn’t the only performance that mesmerizes. Both Vinaite and DaFoe shine off the screen. Vinaite in particular is quite the find. She was an Instagram model when Sean Baker discovered her, and her performance leaves a heartbreaking impression on the audience. As for DaFoe; he’s just amazing. This is his best performance since  2000’s “Shadow Of The Vampire.” DaFoe lives in this guys skin. He is Bobby. He is also the best person in this film; full of anger, frustration, and love for these two ladies.

     Baker is slowly becoming one of my favorite directors. He knows storytelling and pacing. He blends French new wave and Italian Neo-Realism flawlessly. Although you have stars like DaFoe and Caleb Landry Jones, you easily begin to feel like you know these people. Baker makes you love these characters even when you don’t want to. You pray they will find their happiness, but Baker doesn’t give you the answers you think you need. This might be Baker’s best film, which is high praise because I was blown away by “Tangerines.”

                “The Florida Project” is the film I wanted “Moonlight” to be. It’s not always ice- cream and waffles like Moonee would want, but it’s one of the best films of the year. Baker created a magical dark dream world. DaFoe, Prince, and Vinaite give wonderfully layered performances. Also this film is just beautiful to look at. The hotels have a haunting beauty in their sadness. See this film.  Don’t wait for video. See it in theaters before it’s too late.

REVIEW RATING: A+

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