Are they worth the hype?

The Florida Project (image copyright Cre Film / Freestyle Picture Company)

The Florida Project (3 stars on 0-5 scale) and Baby Driver (1 ½ stars) have little in common except the fact that they are critical darlings. The former has been well received on the festival and limited-release circuit while the latter was lauded by critics as one of the best action films of the summer. Now that The Florida Project is getting a wider release and Baby Driver is out on DVD and Blu-ray, let’s revisit whether the movies are worth the hype.

The short answers are somewhat and no. Let’s start with the somewhat.

The Florida Project is a gritty, minimalist tale of the people who live at the fringes of the Disney World economy in Central Florida. Belched out of a system that is designed to support tourism but not necessarily provide hope to all rungs of society, these people live week to week in reduced-rent motel rooms on Highway 192 in Kissimmee, where the film was shot.

The Florida Project (image copyright Cre Film / Freestyle Picture Company)

If you live in the Orlando area, this film might hit you pretty hard, though it is not necessarily a criticism of Disney itself, despite what some media are saying. It’s simply a necessary examination of poor people – particularly children – who aren’t often given a voice in cinema.

Written and directed by Sean Baker (Tangerine, which he shot on an iPhone) and featuring great performances by Bria Vinaite (as a down-on-her-luck prostituting mother) and Brooklynn Prince (as her precocious daughter), the film is surprisingly amateurish and clunky in the early-going before hitting its stride toward the end. But even when it hits that stride emotionally, we’re left in the dark regarding many details of the characters’ lives. Indeed, I feel like I could have learned as much about these people by driving just a few miles south of my home in Orlando and hanging out in Kissimmee for an hour or two. And though the hotel manager – played by Willem Dafoe in a surprisingly subtle performance – is a nice addition to the story, we know even less about him than we do about the mother and daughter whom the screenplay focuses on. In this respect, The Florida Project is a shell of a good movie. But there’s still no doubt that Baker is an original voice with something to say and that his latest film, despite the odd, tonally challenged ending, is a tough watch in all the right ways.

Baby Driver (image copyright TriStar Pictures)

If The Florida Project is substance with little style, Baby Driver is the opposite. It’s Edgar Wright’s upscale version of The Fast and the Furious, complete with some breathtaking car chases and a better cast (Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Ansel Elgort). I suppose the film has something to say about lost dreams and a triumph of good nature over society’s criminal element, but its points are so buried by stylistic noise that one can hardly see them. But maybe that’s the point: It’s a wild, loud, violent ride, if you’re into that type of thing. Wright apparently is, but his previous films (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) had a bit more charm.

Perhaps the worst criticism of Baby Driver is that nothing seems real. We’re not connected to a single thing the characters are experiencing. And that’s ultimately a fault of the screenplay, and the director’s overall sensibility regarding pacing and performance. It’s the polar opposite of The Florida Project, which, during its best scenes, feels documentary-real.

© 2017 MeierMovies, LLC

For more on the film, check out this article in The Orlando Weekly.

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