Starring: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe
Director: Sean Baker
Running Time: 111 mins
The Florida Project is an American film about a young girl who gets up to mischief with her friends and mother over the course of a summer living in a motel in the shadows of Disney World Orlando.
With a clear voice and intended message, The Florida Project features some very heavy-going and dramatic moments, all underlined by deep and passionate principles throughout, making for an intriguing and often emotionally powerful drama. Well-directed by Sean Baker and featuring a great performance from Willem Dafoe, the film is impressive throughout, although it occasionally falls down when playing through long sequences of very loud, arguing dialogue, which don’t match up to the film’s most tender scenes.
Let’s start with the positives, the best of which undoubtedly comes from the performances. While both Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite are excellent throughout, ultimately managing to prove far more likable and understandable than you would think at the beginning, it’s the performance from Willem Dafoe that’s undoubtedly the most impressive, bringing a real sense of calm and order to the middle of a chaotic setting.
The drama, struggles and frustrations of the poor people living in the motel is pretty heavy-going at times, but Willem Dafoe, playing the motel manager and effective ‘fixer’ for the guests’ various issues, brings a glimmer of hope into the mix, as his incredibly genuine and warm-hearted turn as the generous man is truly wonderful to see. He’s not a saint who’s constantly handing out favours, but a simply level-headed man who believes in fairness and seeing everyone given a chance, something that comes through brilliantly and adds a touching heart to the movie.
Another big plus of this movie is how passionate it is about its plot. Many social dramas can prove a little dull if they’re too descriptive of issues, however writer-director Sean Baker puts real emotion and passion behind the story here, opening our eyes up to the hardships of people living in poverty, a point that’s made all the more hard-hitting when constantly juxtaposed with the magical land of Disney World.
The motel in the film is located a few steps away from the theme park, and the land that symbolises dreams and childhood wonder. In that, the film also has a lot of focus on the theme of childhood, with Brooklynn Prince’s character taking the central role in this side of the story. However, although it does detail an often nostalgic and sweet portrayal of childhood, it mainly looks at how pure childhood innocence can be taken away from such an early age if in such a situation, and seeing the hardships of this young girl throughout the movie in contrast to the wonder of Disney World next door has some impressive power throughout.
Having said all that, and as impressive as The Florida Project is at times, it does still suffer from a good few issues that often plague the social drama genre. While it’s undoubtedly passionate in its delivery throughout, there are times when it’s not quite the most accessible drama, simply because a lot of its dialogue is given through some very angry and heated arguments.
Now, having arguments in a film definitely isn’t an issue, however there are numerous similar films that attempt to show hardships and add a sense of frustration and anger to the issue by having characters angrily shout a lot of their dialogue when things are going wrong. Again, it’s not an unnatural way to portray the dialogue, however I often felt that too much time in this film is taken up with this sort of dialogue, and in comparison to some of its most moving and powerful scenes (which are almost always quieter and calmer), it doesn’t quite pack the same dramatic punch, which was a shame to see.
Overall, though, I was impressed by The Florida Project. While its screenplay and dialogue aren’t quite perfectly executed throughout, it features an intriguing story that features passionate focus on many modern social issues, furthered by a fantastic central performance from Willem Dafoe, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.