The Florida Project reviews

Mister Tee
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Re: The Florida Project reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Tue Nov 07, 2017 12:56 am

I wasn't much a fan of Tangerine -- for me, it had too much borderline-amateur acting and way too much screaming. I thought its critical praise was largely due to subject matter and no-doubt genuine admiration for the super-low-budget (I can't count the number of times I heard "shot on an iphone").

Because of all that, I went into The Florida Project with some wariness. While I think this film, too, has been a tad over-praised, I liked it MUCH more than Tangerine, and think it's well worth seeing. It doesn't have anything close to a strong plot-line (which did bother the friend I went with), but its assorted vignettes are consistently engaging, and the one major mother/daughter thread led to a powerful climax.

I also liked the acting far more than in Florida Project. Having Willem Dafoe around to supply a professional presence helps enormously -- it sets a tone -- but the movie most succeeds via the performance of little Brooklynn Prince, who's just terrific. She manages to feel completely authentic at every moment, and it's an authenticity that isn't dragged down by any sense of amateurishness. (Conversely, I think the actress who plays her mother does sink into that trap -- she felt believable, but I had the sense that believability largely came from her lack of training.) The other kids are mostly good, as well -- thank god, as the movie largely relies on them.

(SPOILERS) I found the ending quite strong. First, just the emotional power of what's going on with Prince and her mother, juxtaposed wth Dafoe's conspicuous detachment from the scene (I thought it meant to suggest he was the informant, and now couldn't stand to watch the result of his action -- did others feel that way, as well?). But that final rush to Disney World (or just Disneyworld, as a mind-set) pushed the movie into unexpected territory -- a move that I know doesn't work for everyone. I thought it was a gamble that paid off, in a way that evoked the Greek theatre's tradition of the deus ex machina. That phrase has been degraded over the years -- it's come to mean a Hollywood-ized happy ending. But its original usage was something different: in the Greek tragedies, it signified man's condition being so hopeless that the only possible deliverance was to bring a literal god onto the stage to alleviate the suffering. I think that's what's going on here: we'd already felt the full anguish of Prince's separation from her mother; the desperate last-second grab for escape -- an escape to the so-called Magic Kingdom (which has hovered in the background throughout the film) -- underlines rather than negates the hopelessness of the situation. It may be the most unexpectedly imaginative final moments of a film since Thelma and Louise.

The Original BJ
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Joined: Mon Apr 28, 2003 8:49 pm

The Florida Project reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Fri Oct 06, 2017 8:32 pm

My feeling toward Sean Baker (based solely on Tangerine) was that he made more Independent Spirit-type films than Academy ones, and after seeing The Florida Project, I'm not inclined to change my take. I'd love to hear the reasoning from those who think this is going to be a BIG Oscar player. I guess Beasts of the Southern Wild would maybe be a precedent, as it's another arty indie about a little girl living in poverty, but I'd also offer up that something like American Honey, which it also bears some similarity to, didn't get any further than the Indie Spirits.

The movie has an interesting conceit -- that single moms living in poverty struggling to care for their kids obviously understand the hardships of their situation, but for those kids, this is just childhood as they know it. And so a life spent living in candy-colored motels, begging strangers for ice cream money, and hawking perfume to tourists with mom, is full of joy and wonder and excitement, even as their parents deal with much uglier realities. The movie captures this childlike sense of innocence, and the struggle to understand the harsher truths of the adult world, with poignancy and charm. And the main little girl, Brooklynn Prince, is an infectious delight. (Her response to Dafoe's accusation that she left a dead fish in the pool -- both the line and delivery -- feel like a perfect summation of a young kid's mentality.)

Still, I can't say I found the film fully engaging as storytelling -- the narrative is definitely on the aimless side, and though events do start to build to a climax near the end, a good bit of the movie amounts to "kids just hanging out in a dump," which isn't necessarily my preferred style of filmmaking. (Though I think a lot of the anecdotes are amusing/moving, depending on the scene.) I also found the mom character pretty unlikable -- yeah, I know she's supposed to be a mess, but sometimes a little insufferability goes a long way.

The ending is obviously going to be open to a lot of interpretations. In a way, it feels both unexpected and inevitable, but I also wondered if the shift in style and tone in those last few minutes might have robbed the movie of the more heartfelt conclusion it seemed like it was building toward. Which is to say, I feel like I have a pretty good idea plot-wise what happened, but it didn't quite land for me as emotionally as I might have liked.

Willem Dafoe is clearly the best in show here, balancing his character's need to show basic human compassion while also lay down the law with the ruffians inhabiting his hotel. But it's not quite a GREAT showcase, and I wonder if some of the raves are simply due to the fact that he's simply the best actor on view. (Well, and the fact that he's generally such a welcome presence onscreen.)

One little thing: it's worth pointing out just how smart the title is, as it refers not only to the grubby pay-by-the-week Orlando motel the characters inhabit, but also Walt Disney's original code name for Disney World, the theme park that's so close and yet so faraway from the characters' lives, whose presence hangs over the entire movie.

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