Sunday, February 18, 2018

Video review: "The Florida Project"

Every serious film enthusiastic always has at least one favorite film that doesn’t make the short list of Best Picture Academy Award nominees. I’ve learned to take the exclusions in stride -- tastes vary, the pre-awards hype game is chaos incarnate, and the Oscar nomination formula is just this side of goat entrails and knucklebone dice in terms of decipherability.

So I wasn’t terribly disheartened when my favorite film of 2017, “Blade Runner: 2049,” didn’t get a Best Picture nod. The one that did really cut to the bone, though, was “The Florida Project.”

This magnificent little film, shot on a shoestring with mostly non-actors, had a vibrancy and an authenticity that leapt off the screen. There is essentially no real story, just the wandering camera as we fall a group of kids living in a garish, cheap motel in the backwaters surrounding Walt Disney World and the other, lesser tourist attractions near Orlando, Fla.

Life is seedy and tenuous here, but it holds an ocean of grace.

Brooklynn Kimberly Prince plays Moonee, the 6-year-old protagonist. She lives with her mom, Halley (Bria Vinaite), who resides in the neon-hued Magic Castle motel, working itinerantly at reselling cheap perfume to tourists, stripping, or selling her body, as opportunities arise. Moonee and the other children are left to roam on their own, getting into minor trouble like spitting on cars or hitting strangers up for change to buy ice cream.

Willem Dafoe, the only recognizable actor with a substantial part, shines as Bobby, the manager of the Magic Castle. People come and go, there’s always something to fix, and Bobby watches over the tide of humanity like a beneficent oversee. Bobby plays the part of the hardass, cracking down on illegal activity, especially prostitution, and chirping at the wayward kids. But any time he threatens to throw anybody out, things always seem to work out in the end.

Director Sean Baker (“Tangerine”), who co-wrote the script with Chris Bergoch, gives us a film that is unstructured in terms of narrative but is neatly sown together in its emotionality. Whenever we are tempted to judge the people we see, such as Halley’s erstwhile efforts as a mother, we are quickly reminded that these characters are doing the best with the scarce tools they have.

It’s a reminder that behind every land of dreams, there’s a grimy backlot where the support crew toil in unseen majesty.

Bonus materials are modest but insightful. They include “Under the Rainbow: Making The Florida Project,” a short documentary; bloopers and outtakes; and interviews with the cast and crew.



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