Director: Sean Baker
Talent: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe
Released: 10 November
Sean Baker’s ‘transgender revenge comedy’, Tangerine, was one of the revelations of 2015. Shot on the fly with iPhones, the film was so funny, humane, and inventive that it powered past any hint of gimmickry to emerge as an instant classic. If his follow-up, The Florida Project, doesn’t contribute quite as lavishly to the store of human happiness, it’s still a rich and affecting portrait of people on the margins of present-day America – one that takes full advantage of increased resources without succumbing to the flattening influence of respectability.
Set in a fantastically lurid off-Disneyland Florida, the film follows Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), a vivacious 6-year-old whose spirits remain stubbornly high despite the precarious existence she shares with her tearaway mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). Intermittently watching over both is Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the manager of the hot pink motel they call home, whose own poignant character emerges in understated hints that fly right past Moonee and, indeed, her mother.
As with Tangerine, The Florida Project is blessed with an extraordinary attentiveness to the feel and sound of its characters’ lives. Baker has a fine-tuned ear for the rhythm of slang, and an eye for how ‘reality’ can, at times, appear dazzlingly strange.
Dramatically, the new film eschews its predecessor’s push-and-pull between realism and farce in favour of a more streamlined tone. As a result, the filmmaking – although beautifully finessed – is less ‘visible’, the better to showcase uniformly excellent performances. Known actors like Dafoe and Caleb Landry Jones perhaps inevitably have a different textural quality to the unfamiliar faces making up the bulk of the cast, but there is not a single false note here. Most of all, viewers will remember Prince, guilelessly holding the centre of the second unmissable film in a row from one of the most exciting American directors working today.
Words – David Turpin