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The Florida Project – Movie Review

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The Florida Project – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

Beyond the theme parks and swamps, there is a side to Florida not often noticed. Director/co-writer Sean Baker seeks to show us that with The Florida Project. Primarily using first-time actors, like his previous film Tangerine, Baker creates a film that is equals parts funny and heartbreaking. Most importantly, he clearly cares about the inhabitants of this motel. Told entirely from the point of view of a young girl, Baker captures the innocence and mischievousness that come with that age. This is both about a child’s view of the world and also her relationship to her mother. This is a lovely film with characters most viewers will come away from enchanted by.

The plot of The Florida Project is told cleverly through little scenes of the central characters going through their day. Baker stitches these moments seamlessly with a fluidity that takes us on this journey with them. There is an immersive quality with which the film shows us the bright pink motel. By the end of The Florida Project, the entire abode is practically memorised in one’s head. Moonee, played in a wonderful debut performance by Brooklynn Prince, is our eyes and ears. Prince plays the role naturally to the point one can’t even tell when the screenplay ends and she begins. She is precautious, but never bratty as she attempts to take full advantage of her summer vacation. Her relationship with a new girl at a nearby motel is remarkably sweet.

She also has a nice connection with her mother, portrayed in a brilliant first film role for Bria Vinaite. While flawed and frequently scheming to pay the rent, it’s clear how much Halley cares for her daughter and she can certainly be classified as a good mother. The best scenes in The Florida Project are these two together and enjoying themselves during the Florida summer time. This is a strong mother-daughter story and Baker depicts the drama with a clear love for these two Floridians. Willem Dafoe, as the motel manager Bobby, tries to play an impartial witness to the events, but his humanity does come through in touching ways.

Dafoe is often typecast as a villain, so it becomes a relief to see him play a regular Joe. Dafoe handles the tricky task of playing somebody who is sympathetic to Halley and Moonee’s plight, but tries not to show it. Some of the film’s funniest moments come from his interactions with the many motel tenants and guests. A particular highlight comes from him dealing with an unwelcome intruder in the most brilliant way possible. Through it all, Sean Baker and his director of photography Alexis Zabe take full advantage of their locations with some impressive night and day shots. Baker concludes the film with a classic ending that could not be more perfect.

The Florida Project is a magical film experience with multiple emotions to be gained from it. This is not a film with contempt for its characters. Even minor ones, like a pair of Brazilian tourists, get moments to shine as Sean Baker jumps from scene to scene. There is a good feeling gained out of our viewings of Moonee, Halley and Bobby. These are good people trying to make due with the conflicts handed to them in life. On screen is one of the most special mother-daughter relationships seen in a film. The Florida Project avoids cliché and works as a beautiful ode to childhood innocence and the need to protect youth from seeing the darkness of adult life too quickly.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison