Sean Baker is a Premier Filmmaker.
Last night on what turned out to be a bit of a chilly 4/20 I finally sat down with a few jazz cigarettes and six friends named Miller and watched Sean Baker's The Florida Project. I know this is a movie I should have seen months ago, in my defense it never showed up in theaters near me that were not located on an island, Staten or Long.
It unfortunately was not nominated for the Oscar for Best picture and thus did not get a re-release come awards season. I ordered the Blu-Ray but was trepidatious, I wanted to make sure I could pay full attention and not spend the entire movie playing Stardew Valley, and boy am I pissed that I waited this long to watch it.
This is not a review so I am not going to be doing the normal break down of the movie, but it got me thinking about Sean Baker and how underrated his work has been. If you have not seen Tangerine, Baker's hilarious and at times dark dive into the world of transsexual prostitutes on the Hollywood strip I not only recommend, I implore you to check it out.
The fact that Baker shot the whole movie on an IPhone5 should be proof enough of his talent but Tangerine is far deeper than just a gimmick. In Tangerine Baker shows us a world that most of us will never see let alone ever think to make into a movie, and he did it using a perfect mix of creative license and realism to make one of the more interesting movies I have seen in years.
Baker does a bit of the same with The Florida Project, although he elected to shoot this one with actual cameras, the song remains the same. This time around Baker focuses on a strip of Florida called Kissimmee, located just outside Orlando and a stones throw away from Walt Disney World. The movie centers around a group of children and the summer they spend making mischief and being kids in and around the run down motels they live in.
The Florida Project's central theme is childhood, but is also an examination of a life that most of us are lucky to not have had to live. It is hard to not look at the children in the movie as brats when they spit on the new tenant's car and call her names too viscous for HubPages readers, but then when you see the main influences in their lives and just how run down the living conditions are, the actions of the children seem far less egregious. Not to mention they make friends with the new girl and induct her into their crew.
This is not to say Baker is completely shaming the parents of these children, most of them are too young to have kids of their own and have probably been dealt an even worse hand in life. It is certainly made clear that these children a product of their environment but Baker does it in a way in which he is not coming off as judging them. He gives you the characters as they are, Hailey is a bad mother to Mooney, but truly does love her, even if it is more like a sister than a daughter.
Some people will find these as faults in Sean Baker's movies. Both Tangerine and The Florida Project lack a strong, altruistic lead character. Sin-Dee Rella, the main character in Tangerine spends the majority of the movie dragging her boyfriends lover by the hair across Hollywood. This is not exactly what you would call a "prototypical main character" but Sean Baker is not interested in making prototypical movies.
His characters, flawed as they may be, have real world reasons for acting the way they do. They lead hard lives and if the world is a cold one then it takes one to know one. Baker does not want to tell the hero's tale or even really have a hero at all, he is more interested in telling the stories about the people you have not heard about, he wants to tell real life stories.
For some reason when people go to the movies they want things to be as realistic as possible. They complain about how things work or "when did they have time to shower?", you know, nitpick stuff. My favorite movies are ones that throw logic and physics to the wind and try to be a movie and not a documentary. This is one of the reasons I love Edgar Wright movies so much, they never take themselves too seriously and always, always know what they are.
For those of you that find that realism and truth are necessary to your movie watching experience then Sean Baker is your man. He has an innate ability to tell stories that not only need realism to tell they demand it. As I said earlier, Baker does not make movies that will be commercial or even mainstream hits, so lets hope that this is the last time a Sean Baker movie is overlooked by the academy because he is one of our best filmmakers in a long time.