Sunday, January 7, 2018

Suffer the little children

This year, Hollywood's award season will be different.

Not just because the entertainment and media industry has been rocked by the scandal of sexual harassment. In 2017, filmmakers had more important things to say than usual. The topics range from World War II Europe on the brink of collapse amidst savage Nazi occupation (Dunkirk & Darkest Hour) to the searing drama of a modern-day midwestern American community scorched by racism, rape and murder (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri). Toss in an iconic battle between presidential corruption and the free-press (The Post), a twisted police crime that degenerates into execution-style murders accompanying an historic urban riot (Detroit) and the nauseating truth about J. Paul Getty's monumental, grotesque greed (All the Money in the World) and you have just a taste of this year's lineup of socially-conscious stories. 

Tonight, I'm praying for an upset at the Golden Globes, and later at the SAG Awards, the DGA Awards and this year's Oscars. I'm nominating a little film that probably won't get many gold statues even though it may have done more to reveal the soul of our nation than all the big budget blockbusters combined. 

Have you seen, The Florida Project? If you haven't, make sure you do. Not just because Willem Dafoe delivers a triumphant performance that could win him a best-supporting actor nomination and trophy. But more importantly, because director, co-writer and editor, Sean Baker, has captured the tragic childhood experience of so many innocents in America. 

Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch have magically milked reality to craft a screenplay so raw and authentic it defies the art of moviemaking. If Dafoe weren't onscreen, you might think The Florida Project is a documentary and you're watching real people, not actors. The rest of the cast is unknowns but they are convincing and captivating. 

No spoiler alert necessary. I'm not going to retell the story here. This is a movie about the children of America's working poor, many whom live in motel communities and in families that struggle to pay their weekly rent. The story focuses on six-year-old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) and her single mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite) an unemployed stripper who herself remains trapped in a dysfunctional childhood, perpetually immature and rebellious. As she tells Monnee, "I can't get arrested again." You will just want to shake Halley and hug Moonee and the other kids who live in the purple-painted inn near Orlando's Disney World.

Anyone who has interacted with the working poor will recognize these people as genuine and the stories as frustratingly accurate. Some of the families in The Florida Project do amazingly well with so little. But this is not La-La Land. The beauty of this film is in the disarmingly sweet behavior of little kids finding joy in the most mundane daily events and the Good Samaritans who resist justifiable cynicism to reach for their compassion in order to protect children and help their parents who appear out of control and beyond help.

In motel rooms nationwide, there are children and grandchildren who deserve much better than another slice of pizza or hot dog for dinner while watching Mom or Dad meltdown or stone out. These little ones do not choose their parents.

Will we choose to find a way to help them? The Florida Project is Hollywood at its best. It's unforgettable.

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