Sunday, April 21, 2024

Why I’m Excited for The Florida Project

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Sean Baker’s latest film The Florida Project just dropped its first trailer and I’m over the moon. Sean Baker, you might remember, is the director and co-writer of 2015 masterpiece Tangerine. From the trailer, it appears Baker has chosen another subject that is often glamorized and or glossed over in mainstream films.

The Florida Project seems to be tackling poverty, the invisible homeless, and childhood. Though there’s no way of telling for sure, it appears to be taking a stark humanistic approach. Much like Tangerine there appears to be a loving yet objective quality in how he frames his characters.

There’s a joy and wonder to the mood that feels authentic. More happenstance than say ‘feel good’ where your jou has to be earned. Baker has a marvelous eye for taking things that we take for granted and showing us the surreal intrinsic beauty of the object.

Take Donut Time, the place where much of the climax of Tangerine takes place. He never goes out of his way to make it seem spectacular. But the way the characters behave and interact while there mixed with how the shots are composed a sort of ecstatic beauty begins to emerge.

The purple hotel in The Florida Project seems to echo the same trait. If we were to see it it would be a novelty. A purple hotel tends to stick out to the casual observer. But again, from the glimpses we’re allowed to see, it appears to be both achingly real and poetically gorgeous at the same time.

There’s a small trend happening and I hope it keeps going. The trend is the depiction of childhood as something complex and a focus on the types of childhood often ignored by big budget studio productions. Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of The Southern Wild is a prime example of this trend.

A film about a poor young black girl, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) who lives in the New Orleans bayou and the trials and tribulations both she and her community faced. Zeitlin framed it all in a frame of magical realism but he never let the style over sensationalize or cheapen the horrors and consequences of very real rural poverty.

Baker seems to be aiming for the same goal with The Florida Project. It appears to be dealing with the limbo that many families, especially families with single younger parents, find themselves in. They may not be ‘homeless’ but living in a motel is still no substitute for a home.

Much like with Baker’s previous movie he seems to be fascinated with the little moments between people. Baker’s last movie was filled with powerful moments that erupted seemingly naturally and without any foresight of narrative or plot necessity. They were of course but the point is you couldn’t tell.

The fact that there seems to be so much genuine joy in the movie makes me glad. Tangerine and Beasts of the Southern Wild were filled frame to frame with an immense love and joy. If anything I loved the trailer just for its coda alone. How often do we get to see someone yell “I love you!” at Willem Dafoe? Even rarer is seeing Willem Dafoe getting to yell “I love you too!” back.

Image courtesy of A24

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