Director: Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou
Writer: Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou
Producer: Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou
by Jon Cvack
I haven’t yet seen Tangerine (2015) as of this writing, but I consider The Florida Project (2017) as one of the best films of 2017. There was a refreshing and unique voice within that film which has been missing over the last decade or so; in which I saw a side of life - and American life, specifically - of which I’ve never seen before; somehow combining the innocence of a coming of age story with the frightening realism of our lower classes. The film piqued my interest in Sean Baker.
Many believe Tangerine was his first film when in fact he actually made six films prior to The Florida Project, his first being Four Letter Words (2000) which I can’t seem to find, and then the $3,000 feature Take Out which would win at Slamdance and go on to be nominated for a John Cassavetes award at the Independent Spirit Awards.
The film is shot entirely on the type of nascent digital cameras which you could find at Best Buy for under a couple thousand bucks, opening up with Chinese immigrant Ming Ding (Charles Jang) approached by some debt collecting thugs, demanding the three hundred dollars that Ming’s late in paying, giving him until the end of the day to pay it off. Ming works at a NYC Chinese restaurant as a biker deliverer. The restaurant is led by Big Sister (Wang-Thye Lee), the cook is Wei (Justin Wan), and the other deliverer is Young (Jeng-Hua Yu). Ming explains his situation to Young, who decides to give Ming all of his deliveries, and so we follow Big Sister taking orders, Wei cooking the delicious looking food (you will want Chinese after this), and Ming delivers. This goes for nearly 90 minutes as Ming meets a range of New Yorkers, from sweet to rude; the interactions nothing beyond a few seconds, and that’s about it. Looking at the Wikipedia page synopsis, it’s funny to note that two-thirds of the synopsis describes the first five minutes, and the last third describe the next 85 minutes.
I want to emphasize again that I see think The Florida Project is both the best film of the year, along with making me excited for where else Baker will take us (especially after this film and knowing Tangerine’s general story), but in terms of this film - I’m simply in disbelief that it has gained the laureates it has. So little happens in this movie beyond the first and last few minutes, that all anyone could really celebrate is the banality of working a mundane and repetitive job. What I saw was a filmmaker who had very little money, hoping to shoot a feature about an area of life we rarely see. But in terms of the overall craft, even how the cheap digital camera would be used, it looks like it was shot by pre-film schoolers. Frankly - it’s just a boring movie that could just as easily have been a ten or twenty minute short with the same message, if not more powerful.
I can’t fault the film too much, as deserved or not, the film shined a spotlight on Sean Baker and provided him the path toward The Florida Project. But all those filmmakers that took so much time to lead a crew, craft a story and images you can’t help feeling frustrated that a film like this gets celebrated while so many other engaging stories are vastly overlooked.
BELOW: One of the few trailers that gives you the entire plot
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