Willem Dafoe grounds “The Florida Project”
Updated: Apr 17, 2018
“THE FLORIDA PROJECT”
Blu-ray, DVD and Digital copy; 2017; R for profanity throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material; streaming Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu, YouTube
Best extra: Cast/crew interviews
SEAN BAKER (“Tangerine,” “Starlet”) directed, edited and co-wrote “The Florida Project,” which has become something of a critics’ darling.
Set on the outskirts of Disney World, it focuses on a young mother and daughter living in “hidden homelessness.” Along with other nearly destitute broken families, Halley (Bria Vinaite) and Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) rent a space in a low-cost tourist motel managed by a man named Bobby (Willem Dafoe, Oscar-nominated for the role).
At the “Magic Castle” motel, mother and daughter are forced to pack up and move to a different room every month so as not to be accused of residency. We observe little Moonee one summer as she gets in and out of trouble with her buddies, manages to find treats by cadging for change outside an ice cream kiosk, or breakfasting on handouts from a restaurant. Moonee and company sometimes have fun in antisocial, even illegal, ways, such as spitting on cars or setting fire to abandoned buildings. Along with her pierced, tattooed, childlike mother, Moonee co-conspires to sell knockoff perfume or stolen Disney ticket wristbands to tourists. With the money they make, they enjoy gleeful shopping sprees and buffet feasts.
But Moonee’s life isn’t all fun. At one point, Halley’s desperation for money leads her to prostitution. That, in turn, leads to family service workers threatening to take Moonee into protective custody. With a cast comprised of many first-time actors “The Florida Project,” while flawed, succeeds nicely as a slice of a particular kind of American life unknown to most viewers. Performances are impressively convincing, especially the one by little Brooklynn Prince.
This Lionsgate Films Blu-ray transfer looks great – pulled from the 4K master, reflecting the fact that the movie was shot on 35mm film. Skin tones are true, color ranges are varied and saturated, details are sharp, and the video retains a pleasing grain. The DTS-HD audio track is also very good, with dialogue sharp, sound effects balanced, and musical elements lively. iTunes provides a 4K version without HDR, but the clarity is superb.
Extras include a nice making-of documentary and a very brief blooper/outtake reel. Interviews with cast and crew are especially interesting. Baker talks about the “national problem” of the hidden homeless, who live week to week in budget motels. His focus on the “universal theme of childhood” was influenced by having watched “The Little Rascals” and “Our Gang” TV shows, which were made during the Great Depression.
Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch did weeks of research around the motels near Disney, where they got ideas for incidents that appear in the film. Baker says he “loves the alchemy” that happens when seasoned actors are combined with non-pros and first-timers.
He discusses his casting process, which included finding local children and looking on Instagram, where he discovered Bria Vinaite. Dafoe talks about his character’s dilemma: Bobby tries to be conscientious about his job, but is willing to bend rules because he cares about the residents. The bright and precocious 7-year-old Prince adorably declares that Baker “is the best director I ever worked with,” who encouraged her to improvise.
Vinaite tells about how excited she was to be cast in the film. She arrived in Florida weeks early so she could work with the on-set acting coach along with the children. Bergoch echoes Baker’s opinion on the value of spending time in Kissimmee, where the budget motels are, and hearing families’ “heartbreaking tales” about their lives. He talks about the writing process with Baker and how they often “reshaped characters” in the script to better match the actors they cast.
- Peggy Earle