Film Review: The Florida Project

Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is a bittersweet drama. Although the finale is signposted fairly early on, the film excels in shining a light on a particular kind of childhood.

Young Moonee spends her summer getting into mischief with her friends, growing up close to Disney World in Florida. Her mother Halley, meanwhile struggles to pay the rent on their room at a motel complex…

Directed and co-written by Sean Baker, The Florida Project revolves around the lives of a young girl and her mother, who live in a motel room in Orlando. The film combines various themes in its telling of their tale. Baker establishes the protagonists early on, with the first sequence giving a great introduction to both mother and daughter.

Set in a motel complex in Florida, the film’s characters are almost universally poor. The Florida Project relays the struggles of living in such an area, yet makes sure to contrast Halley’s lifestyle with that of her neighbours. Like last year’s American Honey, The Florida Project excels at showing the underside to the American Dream. Moonee is very much a victim of circumstance. The film balances this with the examination of an entertaining childhood, despite the numerous detractions. This is most evident through the focus on the freedom of childhood through Moonee and her friends. Although frequently mischievous, the friends have a nice repartee as they go on their adventures.

Halley functions as much as an antagonist as she does a protagonist. Bobby is employed as an overseer, and even a protector to the mother and daughter, despite their attitudes. This character is developed enough to feel realistic. Moonee meanwhile is a character who elicits humour and warmth, as well as frustration. Although the finale of the film feels inevitable, the very ending is a bittersweet touch.

Brooklynn Prince is great as Moonie, whilst Willem Defoe is very natural as Bobby. Bria Vinaite is also convincing as Halley. The cinematography makes the most of the colourful setting, as well as the range of weather.

The Florida Project is a great exploration of childhood in challenging circumstances. The film is frequently humorous, without detracting from the poignancy.

The Florida Project is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.

Film Review: American Honey

American Honey

American Honey is a new American road movie. Andrea Arnold proves once more why she is such an exciting director.

Hoping to escape her less than ideal life, teenager Star joins a travelling magazine sales crew. As they travel across the Midwest, Star gets caught up in the partying and the nomadic lifestyle…

Writer-director Andrea Arnold’s American Honey combines aspects of a traditional road movie with a contemporary outlook. The film marries a throwback style with an unappealing reality. Star is a protagonist that viewers will get behind, even if some of her choices are questionable.

Opening on an average day for Star, the film immediately paints a less than ideal picture. This is not the story of a girl wanting an escape from her mundane existence. American Honey is darker than this; a theme that pervades the entire film. Viewers will sympathise with Star, and later will likely feel tense at the situations she gets herself into.

As the film progresses, the lifestyle of the characters becomes repetitive. Arnold is making a point here; it is not a envious lifestyle of these young adults, but it is better than where they have come from. The interactions seem natural, particularly the camaraderie on the road. Arnold depicts a range of characters, without delving to far beyond the main players. Nevertheless, she offers enough for viewers to feel familiar with the group. Krystal is also a strong character – a Fagin of sorts who both looks after and exploits her charges. Jake is a wildcard, likeable in his demeanour yet unreliable in his motives.

A very telling aspect of American Honey is the scenes in which the main characters talk about dreams. Their fantasies are so simple, yet not so attainable. This exemplifies the new American dream; not a life of riches and comfort but simply a space to live a normal life. Arnold captures this shift perfectly.

American Honey has one of the best soundtracks of the year. The camera work is both intimate and energetic. The handheld camera, in the van in particular, gives a strong sense of the lifestyle. Sasha Lane is very believable as Star. Riley Keough is also good as Krystal. Shia LeBoeuf brings a manic energy to Jake that viewers will have seen before. This suits the role, however.

American Honey is in its own way thought-provoking, sweet, and disturbing. A worthwhile watch.

American Honey is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2016.

BFI London Film Festival 2016 Launch

Today saw the launch of the BFI London Film Festival 2016. This year’s programme is bursting with cinematic delights. There are more galas than in previous years, and screen talk participants include Werner Herzog and Paul Verhoeven. Here are some of the films to look out for at London Film Festival 2016.

Headline Galas

The Birth of a Nation

The London Film Festival 2016’s opening gala A United Kingdom had already been announced, the Scorsese-produced, Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire looks like a lot of fun. Elsewhere, plenty of hotly anticipated films including La La Land, Arrival and The Birth of a Nation. Writer-director Nate Parker also stars in the story of an enslaved preacher who led a revolt in 1830s Virginia. Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is also a headline gala. An adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, the film stars Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon. Mira Nair’s Queen of Katwe stars David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o.

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

The Handmaiden

This year sees additional galas, which will take place on a purpose built venue on the Strand. They include The Handmaiden, from director Chan-wook Park. The film looks as sumptuous as Park’s previous film Stoker. Miles Teller stars in Bleed For This, based on the true story of boxer Vinny Paziena. Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq is the Sonic Gala. The hip hop musical features Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett and Samuel L. Jackson. Andrea Arnold’s American Honey and Ava DuVernay’s The 13th are among the special presentations this year.

Official Competition

My Life As A Courgette

Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is amongst the Official Competition at London Film Festival 2016. Staring Isabelle Huppert, the film is an adaptation of a Philippe Dijan novel. Terence Davies’ A Quiet Presentation is a biopic of Emily Dickinson staring Cynthia Nixon. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, about a young man struggling with his sexuality in 1980s Miami, looks like a great watch. In the First Feature Competition, Porto sees one of Anton Yelchin’s final performances, whilst animation My Life As A Courgette looks like a lot of fun. David Lynch: The Art Life is among the contenders for the Documentary Competition, as well as The Graduation. The latter is a documentary about a prestigious film school in Paris. Chasing Asylum, about the Australian government’s immigration policies, seems very topical.

Strands

The Salesman

The Love strand features Lovesong, director So Yong Kim’s film about a lonely young mother. It stars Jena Malone and Riley Keough. Highlights in the Debate category include Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman. A Separation‘s Farhadi has already won awards at Cannes. Mindhorn features in the Laugh strand. The film stars Julian Barratt as a washed-up 1980s TV detective. Dare features Christine, starring Rebecca Hall as the notorious television journalist. Paul Schrader’s Dog Eat Dog looks to be a highlight of the Thrill section, with Nicholas Cage starring alongside Willem Dafoe. Another David Lynch connection (Cage and Dafoe starred in Lynch’s Wild at Heart), Blue Velvet Revisited, features in the Cult strand.

I Am Not A Serial Killer

Cult also features I Am Not A Serial Killer, based on the young adult novel. The Innocents looks to be a highlight of the Journey strand. Anne Fontaine’s film is about a young doctor working for the French Red Cross in 1945. London Town, a coming of age film set in 1979 London, features in the Sonic strand. The Family strand includes Rock Dog, an animation featuring the voices of J.K. Simmons and Luke Wilson. Finally, Experimenta includes Have You Seen My Movie?; a must-see for cinema fans.

The full London Film Festival 2016 programme can be viewed here. The BFI London Film Festival runs from 5th-16th October 2016.