Posted Nov 09 2017
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The Florida Project - This Life In The Shadow Of Disney Movie Rocks

Dir: Sean Baker

Starring Willem Dafoe, Brooklyn Kimberly Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones

Director, producer, editor and co-writer Sean Baker made his previous award-winning film Tangerine, largely on a series of iPhones. For his latest, he’s back in the world of glorious – and gloriously coloured – 35mm, for a beautifully balanced movie that explores childhood on the edges. And the resilience of children in such worlds.

Baker’s film is set in and around a series of welfare motels, the harsh side of the American Dream, practically in the shadow of the other side of that dream at its most extreme – Disney World in Florida. Whilst tourists may flock to the theme park and the more affluent areas of the state, six year old Moonee, her friends and her mum, Halley (an excellent Vinaite) struggle to get by on the fringes of  the country’s depressed economy. But you’d never know if from Moonee and her friends as they embrace childhood with full gusto, playing out all day long, even if that involves spitting on cars, swearing at adults, bumming free ice cream and waffles. Or even burning down a former crack den – and event that brings all the locals out to watch, on the grounds that it’s so much better than what’s on TV.

Moonee lives in The Magic Kingdom, which in this case is a low rent motel, on the edge of a freeway and society both (Seven Dwarves Lane is always just the next turn away.) Willem Dafoe is on superb form as Bobby, the manager (his scene with a potential paedophile is a standout) and Baker’s characters drift through the summer, their lives ebbing and flowing, with the filmmaker’s focus firmly on the children, who seem incapable of registering any of the darkness around them.

Indeed, it is this wide-eyed optimistic view of the world from the children’s point of view that inflects Baker’s film with such a powerful sense of both charm and beauty. We see this world for the most part through their eyes and learn that magic is more than just a word in the name of a rundown hotel.

Performance wise, Baker draws some remarkable moments from all his young cast, none more so that Prince who brilliantly carries the whole movie. With an improvisational tone, the film almost appears to be eavesdropping on its young cast at times, despite their obvious precociousness. Which is never to say that Baker neglects the more adult side of his tale and the inevitability that such enforced lifestyles may well entail, in many ways asking the question is it possible for the innocence of childhood to survive?

Beautifully shot (not an iPhone in sight) with a pastel palette that is at once gorgeous and strangely sad in its depiction of dilapidation so nearby to glamour, The Florida Project is a remarkably astute and uplifting movie. Plus, it builds to a hugely satisfying and dramatically sound climax that manages to move effortlessly from almost brutal social realism to a gorgeous suggestion of magic realism.

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