Florida ProjectSean Baker (USA 2017)Willem Defoe; Brooklynn Prince; Bria Vinaite
Viewed: Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 13 Nov 2017; ticket: £9.75
ticket to Disneyland
Seeing Florida Project made me think about director Sean Baker’s previous movie Tangerine.Tangerine was anintermix of setting script and character, that pulled together architecture gender sexuality and character strips of chaotic lives, crafted into a strong humorous script.
But the film works primarily because of the central roles of its main characters who represent the pact that the film makes with truth.The contribution of Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (Sin-dee) and Mya Taylor (Alexandra) is pivotal to the movie.Tangerine is a about a seeing of the world through the filter of their obliquely referenced socio-sexual filters.Through the mediation of their characterisations the viewer glimpses and enters a different but parallel LA world. A world of the side walk, of the street.Their presence, their sash-assed poise and immediacy drove the film. Everything in Tangerine originated out of the honesty they brought to the film from their own lives.
Of course in Baker’s scenario the creative choice to film with iPhones, the settings and locations, and his script were all clever and inspired. But these were all lesser factors in a filmic equation dominated by presence of Sin-dee and Alexandra.
Florida Project, Baker’s follow on movie is a a betrayal of all the attributes that made Tangerine a singularly effective filmic statement.
Baker’s Florida project, lacking in honesty of performance, reveals the poverty of Baker’s ideas.Florida Project reduces its characters to the status of two dimensional figures, in particular the child subjects.Moonee, the main child character is simply an object for the camera, a fixation about which Baker tries to organise his material.He seems not to have understood that if the child is to be an affective medium, then the viewer has to be able, along some dimension, to enter into or experience life through the eyes of the child. There has to be a seeing by the viewer of the situation of the child.
This idea of enabling a ‘seeing’ seems not to have occurred to Baker or to have been beyond him.Baker goes for the simple solution of exploiting the child image.He pumps the child image hard for those externalities of expression that confirm its childness. The script and filming are simply crude renditions of Moonee’s exploits, none of which create moments for the viewer to see something that she sees.Moonie is cutified but but not deepened, we know nothing more about her at the end of the movie than at the beginning – just like Mickey Mouse, she is a given.Instead Baker offers us Moonee’s faciality;her face shot in a variety of different poses poises gesticulations and situations.Sometimes she is right in your face (as when she eats ).Mostly she is just Disnified:she eats ice cream, she’s supplied with one liners, she is sketched as indomitable in spirit, perspicacious and little wild at times. But nothing too far out of the Disney range because ultimately whatever she does, even if it’s bad (but of course only unintentionally bad therefore excusable),it is only her face that counts in the final verdict of the cinema court of judgement.Her face as an object for our gaze.Her face as image.
The film has some of the attributes of Tangerine. A sharp eye for settings, the Project itself, the Magic Castle Motel and the Disney themed zone of Florida.But Baker puts nothing that is truthful into this setting. The film looked as if the original script was based on a sort of Robert Altman type ensemble idea, interweaving the entangled chaotic strips of life of different Project characters into a single theme.But for some reason, perhaps weakness of script and sub-plot, or loss of confidence in the acting itself, this type of idea didn’t work out.
Baker’s movie lacking coherence of character or plot,degenerates into a series of TV sketches, a series of non sequiturs in which we see: a Honeymoon couple, a paedophile incident, a bare tits by the pool incident, a flamingos in the motel incident etc., which seem designed to give some screen time to a marooned Willem Defoe to earn his pay check.Lacking a focus for the camera the face of Moonee ends up by default as the hapless saviour of the day.
In the final sequence the film moves from exploitative objectification into dishonesty.Child welfare officials take steps to remove Moonee from the custody of Halley, but Baker at this point in the script decides to obscure the reasons for their intervention.It is unclear what Hallay has been doing; has she been working as a prostitute?Some of the overheard dialogue suggests this, but we are left in the dark as the reasons for the sudden intervention are glossed over.All that Baker’s script and scenario can offer up to the audience is spectacle not understanding.The spectacle of Moonee’s flight from the Welfare officers. An externality not a seeing.Baker’s non admittance of Moonie ‘seeing’ what is happening, take the film into the realm of evasive dishonesty.For his finale Baker decides thathis safe option is to handle Moonee as if she actually never had any real experience of her mother.As if for Moonie her mother had no real psychic existence. This refusal to take responsibility for the psychic world of the film, is the dishonesty which finally defines the movie.
Florida Project shot at the portals of the Disney Empire, reads like Baker’s calling card to the great empire of entertainment.