Two massively emotional films were seen on LFF Day 8: Paddy Considine’s second film of beautiful devastation, and a riotously funny slice of Floridian life.
Both films today took me entirely by surprise. The first, Paddy Considine’s Journeyman, wasn’t as cruelly sad as his last film, yet it was still unexpectedly and unrelentingly sad, and the second, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project pummeled me with a charismatic look at life on the fringes.
It’s been six years since Paddy Considine’s exceedingly challenging Tyrannosaur: an unforgettably traumatic experience that’s lived on in memory. With Journeyman (B+), Considine has once again directed (as well as written and starred in) a supremely affecting, very human drama. This time around, it’s less fervently unpleasant, but that by no means makes it any less tragic. We follow Paddy Considine’s Matty Burton, a middleweight boxer at the top of his career’s game as he fights a young, cocksure, boxer Andre Bryte (Anthony Welsh). The first act concludes with a riveting, furious competition that’s better and more authentic than any sporting scene in LFF’s other sports film Battle of the Sexes, the editing and true-life skill on display accentuates every punch, jab and blow. Paddy Considine is completely captivating; pre-fight cordiality and rapport with the press; his adorable relationship with newborn Mia; and his affectionate compassion with his wife, played phenomenally by Jodie Whittaker. Post-fight, with Burton’s health suddenly thrown into focus, his tone gradually changes. It’s a transformation that’s absolutely heartbreaking, and without being a dubious caricature. Matty’s post-fight tribulations could have been condescending or judgemental, but Considine avoids this with a humane approach to the story.
Journeyman revolves around one of the most masculine of sports, but this is a film that challenges that masculinity. For the most part, Matty’s team of close friends are hard-hearted and steely, masking their feelings as much as they can, but at the point in the film wherein they could have furthered this manly facade, Considine promotes completely natural emotions, including one moving scene where Bryte visits Matty to apologise for the bout that caused everything. Considine’s power both behind the camera and in front is visible in every situation, withholding small details or building tension with agonising sound or scene-blocking (there’s one moment that’s terrifying in its simplicity, but even more so because of the sound and cinematography), and his skill is fully on show when Matty and Anna (Whittaker) are together. Going from commanding a set to commanding the scene is an incredible talent, and Considine does it with assurance. It’s not a fun watch (by the end, it does feel emotionally exhausting), but it’s a quietly devastating and heartfelt approach to trauma, and those affected by it.
After spending 90 mins in Journeyman‘s passionately upsetting world, I needed something uplifting and comedic, something which The Florida Project (A-) brought a giddy smile to my face within its first 10 minutes. Here is a film that defies description, to do so would do its simple exuberance a huge disservice. It doesn’t sound like anything original – three children who seek to make each day a celebration of life in a boiling summer while their poor neighbourhood plods along through the day to day – but the way Baker balances tone and characters is an absolute marvel. As mostly newcomers, Baker’s film is populated with real-life unknowns, lending the film an authenticity into its docu-drama view. Moonee – 6-year-old future star Brooklynn Prince – runs amok through her roadside motel, skipping around the bayou’s and the shopping districts, causing a harmless quality of trouble with a cheeky, devil-may-care attitude. Supporting Moonee is her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), whose decisions to endanger her and her daughters lives to provide for them gives the film a compassionate but worrisome quality. Moonee’s fragile fantasies are always on the precipe of crashing around her, so she flees to the woods to find her own fun.
With her two friends, Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto), Moonee is determined to make this the most fun it can be, and it’s Prince’s accomplished performance that shows how she’s not entirely oblivious to the economic struggles of her single mother with a simple, chipper smile. Her playful mischief is the heart and soul of The Florida Project, the effusive way in which she adopts the crude language and attitude’s she’s seen on TV or overheard from the motel’s residents is utterly charming, Moonee is a deeply rich character who avoids obnoxious, mawkish development by Prince’s impressive work: her final scene at the door of Jancey’s room takes her from wonderful actress to versatile truthfulness with one a stunning, touching word. On the other end of the scale of obscurity is Willem Defoe, who brings a world-weary warmth to his character of Bill, The Magic Kingdom’s motel owner and fixer-upper. He’s seen families like Moonee’s before and he’ll see more when they’ve gone, but his understanding of their difficult – and gradually desperate – problems, at the same time emanating a stern benevolence, gives Bill a quietly understated honesty. It may be light on plot, and only really having forward momentum when a new character enters the mix, be it a couple on their honeymoon who’ve booked the wrong Magic Kingdom, or a paedophile who makes his attempts at grooming, but it’s a compelling, effervescent story of a perfectly wonderful snapshot into the lives of those on the outskirts of society.
Though short, Day 8 was another day of constantly terrific cinema that wowed, exhausted and enchanted with an abundance of raw talent and professionalism. Both films highlight actors at the top of their games, as well as directors fully committed to their stories, and both of them are films that I’ll be recommending thoroughouly to everyone that’ll listen.