Great until the final moments
The Florida Project (2017): Set over one summer, the film follows precocious 6-year-old Moonee as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, all while living in the shadows of Disney World.
So close.....I was so close to being able to gleefully say "A24 does it again!" There is so much to like in this film. The casting is phenomenal, (this film features all newbies to the industry minus the masterfully cast Willem Dafoe) the cinematography is great, the production design is gritty and dirty despite its superficially beautiful appearance, (I LOVE the production design of this movie!) and there's a wonderfully told story to boot. Uuuuuuuuuuuuntil the final 180 seconds of this film. This film comes in at 115 minutes. Through the first 110(ish) minutes, I was completely entranced by this film. But then the ending came and did its absolute best to ruin it all.
So usually I start with the good parts of a film, but here I'll start with this ending. Because, sadly, it is all I can think about. So I won't spoil, (because I think this film is still worth the watch despite this ending) but the film basically ends in the middle of the climax. You see this incredibly intimate and emotionally powerful moment between two main characters immediately followed up by this loud and tone deaf montage that ends with an unexpected fade to black. I get what they were trying to do with this ending, but unfortunately it is very out-of-place, and the jarring cut to black (because remember, before this odd montage we were in the heart of the climax) left everyone in the theater, myself included, shocked. I heard several people next to me say, "Is that it?" Because it leaves so many unanswered questions! This jarring and rushed conclusion does its best to spoil the rest of the film, but the rest of the film is so marvelous that I am willing to forgive this ending. There were a few missteps in the story, but given the fact that it's told from a child's perspective I was more than willing to forgive the occasionally messy story structure.
But yes. The rest of this film is almost perfect, and it makes the ending that much more frustrating. However, you can say it's almost a good thing when you're left wanting to know more about what happens to these characters. Because that means you were invested in them before that. You certainly are! The relationship between Moonee (played by newbie Brooklynn Prince) and her mother Halley (played by another newcommer, Bria Vinaite) is at the forefront of this story. Apart from the two having incredible chemistry, (they might as well be mother-daughter in real life) their story of constantly struggling to simply survive day-to-day is heartfelt and human. That's probably the best way to describe this film: it is very human, raw, convincing, and down-to-earth. Halley does everything she can to survive, despite many of those things being questionably legal at best. Honestly on the surface she looks to be a terrible mom, but through this story you come to understand her connection and how deep her love for her child really goes. It's simply beautiful. Moonee and her friends are also awesome, as they are more than capable of carrying themselves. I loved some of the antics we saw between them, even though they certainly made some questionable decisions too. The icing on this cake is Willem Dafoe. This may very well be the single best performance I have ever seen from him. He plays the manager of the hotel Halley and Moonee are staying at, and he tries to be a father figure for both Moonee and her equally troubled mom. They could've easily screwed this character up in any number of ways, but fortunately, Bobby's intentions are simply pure. This makes some of his interactions with Halley that much more devastating. But overall, this film is acted incredibly well, and because everyone besides Dafoe are basically newbies to the industry, we have to give a TON of credit to director Sean Baker (who also did the great 2015 film Tangerine and 2012's Starlet, which both featured newbie casts similar to this film) and his casting crew for these picks. They are excellent.
Oh oh oh! Can I talk about the production design here? Because holy crap I LOVED the sets of this movie! There are basically two hotels in this movie, and both have very different color schemes. On the outside, the hotels look almost nice. There's even a joke about these color schemes in the film. But on the inside there is a very different story. Overall the design is gritty, dirty, and unkempt, (the room of Monee and her mom Halley is a great example of this) despite its attempts at superficial beauty. There's even a joke about a slow cooker in here that goes a long way to showing just how poor these people are. The cinematography was also great, though I will admit that's not necessarily that hard a thing to do in a drama like this. However there are some pretty good camera angles throughout the film that help reinforce the notion that this film is occurring via the perspective of a child. Ultimately, The Florida Project has more than enough going for it to be classified as a good film. But, because of its rushed, tone-deaf ending, it falls short of (what should have been) greatness. I still give it a strong recommendation, just be prepared to leave the film feeling somewhat empty and unfulfilled.
The Critique: Featuring beautiful production design and great casting, The Florida Project should have achieved greatness but falls just short thanks to a sloppy ending.
The Recommendation: This movie is still well-worth the watch, especially for those wanting to see what all the buzz is about with its studio, A24. Just be prepared for this trainwreck of an ending.
The Verdict: I'm gonna bust out a rare .5 score for this one because this film really should be great. But that ending. So....
7.5/10 Almost Great
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