Sean K. Cureton

Posts Tagged ‘Willem Dafoe’

The Florida Project: Just Outside the Greatest Place On Earth

In Movie Reviews: 2017 on November 25, 2017 at 11:59 am
The Florida Project

A24

The Florida Project
Directed by Sean Baker
3 1/2 out of 4 stars

The Florida Project offers as unique a glimpse into the life of low-income Americans in the 21st century as only writer-director Sean Baker could deliver. Coming off of the breakthrough success lauded onto his 2015 indie drama Tangerine, Baker has turned his attention from one maligned subculture to another. After following the winding lives of several transgender sex workers traversing the urban environs of Tinseltown on Christmas Eve, The Florida Project offers a vibrantly colored parable on the plights of those living in the shadow of commercial largesse in Orlando, Florida. Focusing in on an unconventional assemblage of residents living out of an economy motel, The Florida Project offers a unique point of view from which to watch its characters, namely that of child actor and star Brooklynn Prince. Rather than seeing all the ways in which her purple colored abode are lacking, Brooklynn frolics in a paradise of her own imagining that rivals the real world splendor of Walt Disney World.

Playing the role of her mother is untrained actor Bria Vinaite, a spritely youth whose impoverished lifestyle is worn more like a badge of honor than an albatross. Rounding out the nuclear unit is celebrated Hollywood star Willem Dafoe, who plays the part of the put-upon motel manager who single-handedly protects his residents from further destitution, often to his own professional and personal detriment. The ways in which Brooklynn Prince discovers small delights and wonders scattered across the landscape of the larger Orlando, Florida area offers a unique representation of the various landmarks and tourist traps that might otherwise beleaguer the spirits of its older residents. Instead of seeing the gross gap of income inequality that is perversely laid bare in the difference between the residents of Dafoe‘s garish purple castle and the moneyed tourists who determinedly turn a blind eye to its suffering indigenous population, Brooklynn finds Neverland within the same environment. Much like Beasts of the Southern Wild did for the Louisiana Bayou, The Florida Project recasts the legacy of another American territory against the realm of myth and fantasy.

Paying special attention to the many grotesqueries of Florida’s commercial real estate, Baker toys with how viewers might otherwise approach a cinematic world that is marked by tragedy, turmoil, and violence. Lacking any formal education, Bria Vinaite is a creature shaped entirely by circumstance in Baker‘s film. But rather than wallow in what many might see as a sorry existence, Vinaite thrives on the fringe of prim propriety. Yet whenever she does so, it’s hard to come away from any of her encounters with the film’s other characters with an even an ounce of malice towards her uncouth behavior. Except the dream that Vinaite has established for herself and her young child frequently bleeds into the realm of nightmare.

During a particularly volatile arc of the film’s script, Neverland is lost to the surrounding harsh reality of 21st century American poverty. In the midst of a confrontation with her best friend and neighbor, Vinaite lashes out in violence against a facile domestic ideal that irrevocably begins to crumble soon thereafter. During the film’s climactic final sequence that sees Brooklynn seeking out the cold comfort of Walt Disney World just as the surreality of childhood begins to lose its hold on her imagination, there is a tenderness to the kind of tragedy that is being depicted. The visual and ethical tenacity with which Baker represents the world of The Florida Project is astounding, and newcomers Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite shine right alongside Hollywood actor Willem Dafoe in one of the greatest films of the year. The paradise that is lost over the course of the film’s trim 110 minute runtime is one that many of us may remember fondly from childhood; only in The Florida Project, the wild flights of fantasy feel even more precious and irreplaceable considering the real world that their creator will soon inherit.

This review is an abridged version of an article that was originally published by Film Inquiry.

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