The Florida Project – Movie Review

“These are the rooms we’re not supposed to go in… but let’s go anyways!”

For his previous movie Tangerine, American director Sean Baker adopted an unorthodox approach, filming the entire movie with three iPhones resulting in a unique, unconventional and highly entertaining comedy that alerted Hollywood to the talents Baker possesses. This time with The Florida Project, allowed a much bigger crew and budget, Baker proves he is up to the task as he delivers a vibrant, sun-drenched drama about the wonders of childhood and the hardships of adulthood that celebrates the innocence of youth and diversity of America while highlighting the many social issues that plague the country’s working class.

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Florida Project follows Moonie (played by newcomer Brooklyn Prince in a staggeringly measured and mature performance) a precocious six-year-old who resides at the Magic Castle, an extended-stay motel in Florida with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite, another newcomer, who is so fantastically real and believable I thought the movie was a documentary briefly) who struggles daily with making enough money to keep staying at the motel and raising her child alone. Moonie is your typical playful and mischievous child. She explores the nearby motels and local businesses with her friends Scooty and Dicky as they create their own adventures, oblivious to the impecuniousness of the adults in the motel. Halley brings Moonie along as she tries to sell fragrances outside resorts to tourists in order to pay her weekly rent and gets free food from Scooty’s mother who works at a local fast-food restaurant. Often the children’s antics draw the ire of the residents of the local motels which usually have to be dealt with Bobby Hicks (Willem Dafoe) the hard but fair manager of the severely purple Magic Kingdom. While Bobby is sympathetic towards Moonie and her mother, he is constantly dealing with Moonie’s shenanigans and Halley’s financial woes and confrontational attitude.

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What’s different about Florida Project than other conventional dramas is that there is no real driving plot. Baker adopts a more human, fly-on-the-wall approach, capturing the day-to-day life of the motel residents. The camera meanders around the gorgeously sunny location and you almost feel like you are spying on the characters as you get to see them as they are, warts and all. This isn’t a cast of beautiful A-list Oscar winners, these are real people with their own dreams, worries and imperfections.
Willem Dafoe’s is typically great, giving Bobby a real dose of humanity. You can tell without him even saying anything that his goal in life was not just to run a large purple motel. He reluctantly becomes a quasi-father figure for Moonie, making sure she doesn’t get into too much trouble, a slight smile on his face every time he has to scold her for something. As I already mentioned Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite combine effortlessly to make a truly memorable mother-daughter duo that may not be a great lesson in parenting but makes for a pair that you really sympathise with as they try to make ends meet.

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The Florida Project may be accused of being uneventful by general audiences but for those wiling to give it a chance there is a beautifully moving and human movie to delve into here. The plot makes unpredictable twists and turns but I was engaged the entire runtime and I found that not knowing where the movie was going exciting and the heart-breaking third act is tenderly handled. Baker has captured magic here with his dynamic style and use of real actors and locations, finding beauty in the unlikeliest of places. The Magic Castle and it’s residents sparkle in the Floridian sunshine. This is another gem that A24 Films can be immensely proud of and I recommend everyone check it out.

So until next time…

keep the change!

 

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