Wednesday, November 22, 2017

[Review] The Florida Project

After making waves with the iPhone-shot indie Tangerine, buzzing director Sean Baker returns with The Florida Project, a spirited and empathetic juxtaposition of childhood wonderment against the backdrop of working-poor struggles within the fractured cracks of America.

The story revolves around the exuberant Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her mischievous young friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto) as they spend their summer break (with minimal parental guidance) splitting time between two rundown motels -- ironically named The Magic Kingdom and Futureland. The film follows their adventures in mundanity -- spitting on cars, spying on guests, sharing ice cream cones, exploring 'Do Not Enter' rooms, making fart noises...

It's all winsomely captured with an observant, almost documentary-like eye -- the garish pastel colors pop through the Kissimmee humidity and the characters beam with realism, personality, energy, nuance, and life amid their very much lived-in environment. The kids are absolutely terrific here (especially Prince, who becomes the main focus). In fact, their performances are so natural that it doesn't seem like you're watching actors (maybe they aren't, at times). Willem Dafoe is at his very best as the property's cantankerous manager with a tough-loving, caring heart of gold beneath his raspy exterior. Also impressive is Bria Vinaite, who plays Moonee's messy and temperamental mother who just can't quite get it together. Her character isn't meant to be the most likable, and she definitely frustrates at times, but she feels so real -- like someone you might know.

Naturally, this transient film isn't built on structured plot. It constantly meanders, drifts, and shifts attention -- just like the kids at the center, but it remains thoroughly absorbing. It's as enchanting as it is harsh, and it takes a couple of deeply affectionate and heart-wrenching dives in the latter half. The last 10 minutes, in particular, breathtakingly set off fireworks of swirling emotion.

By the end of our stay at The Florida Project, it feels like we know the place pretty well.

* 9/10 *

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