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FILM REVIEW: The Florida Project

November 22, 2017 2:00 pm

Out now

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Review by Dani Watson

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If it was in  the hands of a different director, The Florida Project could have easily been the most harrowing film of the year.  Six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) lives in the Magic Castle, a sleazy motel-come-refugee for those confined to the fringes of post- recession America.  Previously a cheap motel for tourists visiting Disney’s real Magic Castle which is just around the corner, it now caters mainly to Florida’s disenfranchised working class – and the odd accidental tourist who didn’t bother to check TripAdvisor.  William Dafoe is the motel’s well-meaning manager-come-social-worker-come-father-figure, who tries, and fails, to keep the Magic Castle’s residents in check and off the streets.

One of his biggest trouble makers is Halley (Bria Vinaite), Moonee’s tearaway mother, who hustles her way through life by any means.  Moonee – a cute baby faced six-year-old with the talk and sass of a Wall Street banker – absorbs her mother’s behavior like a sponge in water.  She learns her mother’s trade young, conning the tourists out of ice creams and getting up to all sorts of mischief. It’s all fun and games from Moonee’s perspective, but under the shadow of Disney theme parks (‘the happiest place on earth’) lies an antithetical reality; the film portrays the plight of those who exist in the impoverished shadow which lurks behind the glossy façade of the tourist industry.  As she happily wreaks unsupervised havov, Moonee is oblivious to this fact at the beginning, but as the narrative progress, there’s a deepening sense that the scales are about to fall.  Monnee’s innocence is as precarious as her circumstances and the vicious cycle of poverty saturates every scene of blissful childhood ignorance.

In spite of its gritty subject matter, the film is as upbeat and vibrant as the protagonist’s mindset.  This is not Angela’s Ashes re-set just outside of Disney World;  it is not  an aestheticization of poverty, but rather an evocative portrayal of childhood resilience in the face of hardship and squalor. With the success of innovative director Sean Baker’s previous work, Tangerine, a film about transgender sex workers  – shot entirely on IPhone 5s - The Florida Project has a lot to live up to, but it certainly succeeds.  What it lacks in concrete narrative is compensated by the raw, authentic, performances of the film’s young actors, who are nevertheless propped up by some stellar acting by Dafoe and the rest of the supporting cast.  Baker does a great job of moulding an inspiring film out of a relatively depressing storyline.

Go see it.  You’ll never look at Orlando the same again.


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