This one is a special kind of R. This is an R-rating that involves kids saying horrible things. Points to this movie for reminding me of curse words that I only heard while working at Oyler. While I absolutely loved the movie and it only secures my place in the system for these kinds of movies getting made, who lets their kids be in these kinds of movies? These kids are my kid's age and I never want to hear 1/100th of the things that these kids say coming out of her mouth. R for language and for dark dark content.
DIRECTOR: Sean Baker
I haven't seen Tangerine...yet. Between trailers and posters and hype, I know that this movie was made by the same guy who made Tangerine. I like his style. I know that there is a lot of carryover based on things I've read about The Florida Project and I'm really interested to see how that plays out in other movies. My wife is a bit of a saint. When we first started dating, we really got into Academy Awards season. This meant that we went out to the movies a lot and that was always a pretty good time. Now we have two kids and Lauren is very, very pregnant with our third. I don't know if she's having such a good time simply watching these movies on iTunes, but she is watching them with a more critical eye than I am. I go into these movies enthusiastic. I think Lauren came out of this movie with a bit of anxiety.
The big thing is that this movie is another one of those movies filled with terrible people doing terrible things. I understand my wife's anxieties throughout this movie. I can't stand when kids are affected by the horrible choices that adults make. (I think that carries over into my stress about the fact that child actors are saying such horrible things because there is a bit of irony when it comes to a child's innocence lost due to the choices that their parents make. I also refuse to believe that a six year old is capable of making the decision to be an actor, but that's me.) The thing about Halley, Moonee's mom, in this one is that she is a real person. When I worked at Oyler, I met Halleys every day. Something broke Halley in a very real way that makes her terrible to everyone around her if they aren't completely supporting her every decision. This drove my wife nuts. She couldn't handle watching Halley. In fact, she even said that Bria Vinaite wasn't a great actress. I had to completely disagree. I thought Vinaite was brilliant. (If you didn't guess, Vinaite plays Halley, but I have too much momentum to hit backspace or take my hand off the keyboard.) Vinaite captures that insanity of that character so brilliantly. She has those insane ups and those insane downs. There is that thick as thieves attitude until there is a slight double-cross and then she is pure fury. The only big difference between Halley and many of the parents that I met is that Halley does genuinely see the value in Moonee. Sure, Halley is corrupting Moonee with every decision and choice that she makes, but there is no ill will towards it. Halley thinks that the one thing that she is doing right is taking care of Moonee and that creates such a conflicting moment for viewers. Halley, for sure, is one of the worst types of parent imaginable. Moonee should have so much more than Halley can give her and Moonee should be developing independent skills and a moral code that Halley isn't providing. Instead, Moonee at six has already gained a sense of entitlement and learned helplessness that is going to be hard to break. But Moonee also is attached deeply to her mother. She sees value where no one else really does. Removing Moonee from this life is the best thing for her, but she cannot leave without breaking in a totally different way. There is this very complicated moral lens on this movie that doesn't paint anything as black or white. This character dynamic is extremely complicated and that's where The Florida Project thrives.
The reason that this is up for an Academy Award is for Best Supporting Actor. I'm shocked that it isn't up for Best Picture. The movie is so good, but I also see the Best Supporting Actor. (This isn't a binary thing, by the way. It could have been up for both. There's also one more slot open and what the heck, Oscar? The Academy Awards are chosen by a guy named "Oscar", bee-tee-dubs.) But Oscar got it right when they gave the nomination to Willem Dafoe. I like Willem Dafoe. A lot of people don't. But I also acknowledge that he tends to stay in his wheelhouse. He is pigeonholed as the creeper or the villain because he looks super weird. I really like him as Bobby. Not only do I like him as Bobby, but I like Bobby himself. Dafoe does this nuanced performance of riding the line between being a father figure to both Halley and Moonee and staying distant. There is this really fine line that Dafoe plays. He is a character that is ultimately aware of the boundaries he's allowed to cross and those that he isn't allowed to cross. He cares and loves for the unloved. He has that moral crisis of, while ultimately being a good man regardless of which way he goes, having to second guess every one of his decisions. He seems to love and care for his tenants. It isn't his job to love them or care for them. He has a mediocre job taking care of a hotel that is standing in spite of everything that is trying to knock it down. But he has to make a decision every time he interacts with anyone who lives there. He can be hard on them and ask them to become independent. But he knows that often won't happen and that they'll slip deeper into despair. But then he also wants to show compassion and help the helpless, which leaves them in the same state of learned helplessness presented at the beginning. Halley is the prime example. I have to believe that Bobby cares for everyone in that hotel. And Halley's narrative works because it is typical of every other person in that hotel. So when Bobby goes out of his way to find Halley a place to stay for the night, Dafoe's face reflects the frustration of his predicaments. He is constantly put into a place where he has no right answer. It's why it is so darned satisfying (LIGHT SPOILER) when Bobby catches the pedophile. There is no moral gray area for what Bobby has to deal with. Regardless, Bobby proves his worth through a singular trait: compassion. (I think I found my Catholic News Agency article theme.) Dafoe presents this brilliantly. I never thought I'd see him play the caretaker so well, but there is this love in his face every time his heart is broken. I love it so much and I want Dafoe to win so badly on that one.
I'm going to be a hypocrite here. I talk about how I don't want a six year old to play Moonee, but I loved her performance. Every kid in this movie is absolutely genius. The movie has this very odd dynamic. Since the movie focuses on Moonee and her friends first and foremost, there is a dark innocence to this movie (and other paradoxes). There are so many charming moments of childhood portrayed in this movie because it looks like the kids are honestly having fun. My soul is a bit darker because I know that there are so many Moonees and Halleys out there, but I also found myself grinning at many of Moonee's mannerisms. The interaction between these kids is beautiful, even when they are setting fire to stuff. They treat people terribly and there's a sick part of me that really like that. I'm going to be really snobby and compare the odd feeling I get watching The 400 Blows. As a teacher, I would go home crying in a heap of misery. Moonee would drive me crazy. But form a perspective of being her peer, I loved when she would get into trouble. That's a weirdly specific emotion that the movie captures and I really have to applaud director Sean Baker and actor Brooklynn Prince. They crafted a very challenging moment. While the movie wasn't about the plot, it was about capturing very complicated realities about life. There sometimes isn't a right answer that is easy to get to. That's what makes The Florida Project so great. It is complex and difficult. If the movie solved Halley and Moonee, it would be the biggest uphill climb only to have to repeat the same thing again and again. The world is far more complex than movies normally care to admit and The Florida Project is the prime example of that.
I loved this movie, but it is another movie that is deeply unsettling. I don't know if I could watch this one again, but I find it fascinating. I recommend it, but be prepared. It is intense.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.