The Florida Project review: Sean Baker directs and co-writes this stunning motion picture focussing on a group of children growing up on the breadline in Orlando, Florida.
The Florida Project review by Paul Heath.
Back in May, a little film called The Florida Project played during Director’s Fortnight away from the main in-competition films at the Cannes Film Festival. Sean Baker’s follow-up project to the impressive Tangerine started to slowly make waves down on the Croisette, and shortly became the talk of the town during this year’s prestigious film showcase, and now six-months on, the world gets to see what the fuss was all about.
Set during the summer, The Florida Project is set on a stretch of highway just outside the walls of the commercial paradise that is Walt Disney World, and takes its title from the original name for the enchanted theme park. The world in which we are introduced to is far from the glamourous, magical domain contained within Disney’s dreamy utopia. Here, we witness the world from a group of children’s points of view, specifically six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), and her group of friends living at the far-from-fairy-tale budget motel The Magic Castle, which is looked after by lonely manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe).
The kids, most of them under the age of ten and living with single mothers or grandmothers, exist on a hand to mouth basis, day-to-day, week-to-week, their parents forging income from anywhere they can. However, despite her harsh surroundings, Moonee and her friends embrace life and use their imaginations to live each day to the fullest – who wouldn’t want to live in a big purple house called The Magic Castle with all your friends, right? The film follows Moonee, her neighbours and friends, as well as her unruly mother Halley (Bria Vinai) who must push her own personal boundaries to provide for her daughter.
Related: Cannes 2017 – full coverage
The first thing that grabs you about The Florida Project is the absorbing nature of the narrative, and, most specifically, the quality of the acting on show. This film features some of the best acting by a young cast, specifically the young Brooklynn Prince, is any film from the past decade. The young actress is a marvel in every scene; a performance that never feels forced, and 100% natural. She is dazzling. As much as she’s outstanding, recognition must also go to the film’s director, the acclaimed Sean Baker who allows Prince and her co-stars (Valeria Cotto’s Jancey another worthy mention) the freedom to improvise and form the characters that are such a delight to watch. Then there’s Willem Dafoe in a turn that is streets ahead of anything he’s done in years. His work as the hard-working, warm-hearted, but utterly firm motel manager Bobby is amongst his best, and again, he’s an absolute joy to watch throughout.
While the subject matter is tough, there’s an always-present underlying spirit of innocence to proceedings, largely because of the choice to tell the story from the children’s point-of-view. There’s a scene late on with the story conveyed through the eyes of the young Moonee, the audience firmly award of what’s about to happen, but her innocence and perspective put an altogether different slant on proceedings, which makes it altogether more heart-breaking.
This is masterstroke filmmaking from the talented Baker, wonderfully photographed and intricately edited – a thoroughly absorbing piece, and one full of charm, most of it coming from the direction of its brilliant young cast.
Deserved of all the praise, The Florida Project is absolutely one of the best films of 2017.
The Florida Project review by Paul Heath, November 2017.
The Florida Project is released in UK cinemas on Friday 10th November 2017.