The Florida Project (2017) – Film Review
Director Sean Baker, who helmed the shot-on-iPhone micro-budget movie Tangerine, moved up to shooting largely on film for his latest release and it’s an absorbing examination of life on the fringes in America today.
The Florida Project was an early name for the Walt Disney World Resort complex which is located only a short distance from the setting of this film – a series of extended-stay motels in Kissimmee, in which essentially homeless residents ‘live’ in the shadow of a rich tourist mecca.
In one particular motel, the purple themed “Magic Castle Inn”, lives Moonee. She’s a six year old child (Brooklynn Prince) who lives with her jobless mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) on the edge of poverty who spends the summer cursing and getting into mischief out in the surrounding area.
To a young child, then, the colourful surroundings of Kissimmee looks like a sun-kissed magic kingdom where Moonee and her friends can have fun but rather than the innocent and subversive laughs that you might expect from something like British TV semi-improvised comedy Outnumbered, this is an altogether swearier film although funny moments are never far away from the pathos.
Moonee, and her friend Jancey (Valeria Cotto) are only five or six years old, quite foul mouthed, petulant at times, but also keen on exploring the world around them and having fun while remaining largely oblivious to the hardships and tough decisions that affect the grown-ups around them.
Prince and Cotto produce simply amazing performances as the two main child leads in The Florida Project – no wonder Baker has considered himself “extremely lucky” to get Prince who he has compared favourably with a young Jodie Foster and he found Cotto shopping with her mother in Florida.
Willem Defoe anchors The Florida Project with a rare good-guy role
There’s only one recognisable Hollywood name in The Florida Project and Willem Defoe puts in a great performance as the long-suffering motel manager, Bobby Hicks, who looks out for his guests and their children as well as dealing with a multitude of day to day problems of his own.
His gruff exterior hides the requisite heart of gold as we come across Bobby during Moonee’s summer misadventures as he tries to deal with her mother for unpaid rent, amongst other episodes during the summer which range from dealing with shadier residents to lighter sketches of life in the motel setting.
Without Defoe this film might not have been greenlit. He delivers a brilliant performance as the father figure that seems to be missing from a lot of families in this drama but he’s only a small part of what makes this film special.
Director Sean Baker discovers more talented first-time actors for The Florida Project
Amazing, then, that his co-stars are so young and inexperienced. Vinaite is a first time actor who Baker found on Instagram and, yes, those amazing tattoos are real.
She does a remarkable job as the rebellious young mother of a child struggling to make ends meet, and making a mess of her life through some desperately bad decisions later.
The sense of community in places like the Magic Castle Inn comes through but there’s also the undercurrent of a hand to mouth existence for the adults.
Young kids like Moonee and Jancey may or may not realise the poverty they are in but their parents try to protect them.
The Florida Project comes across as a timely examination of life on the fringes of society. It may not appear to have a traditional beginning, middle and end though – it’s just a long snapshot of life over the course of a summer with a meandering plot.
It all leads to an unusual ending that might firstly appear rushed but may well have been obtained without tacit permission and is certainly open to interpretation.
Either way, the result is an absorbing look at a side of life you don’t often see in America and I wouldn’t be surprised if Brooklynn Prince (who is still only seven) or Valeria Cotto (just six) get an Oscar nod for their debuts in The Florida Project.
The Florida Project (15; strong language, sex references; 111 minutes)
Director: Sean Baker
Cast Includes: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto, Bria Vinaite, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones
Summary: THE FLORIDA PROJECT is a US drama, set over one summer, in which a young mother struggles to provide for her daughter while staying at a motel near Disney World.
Rating: ***** (Astonishing portrait of life on the fringes in America illustrated with some great performances)