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Dan's Review: "The Florida Project" channels innocence, beauty in a brutal world

Oct 19, 2017 06:35PM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Kimberly Prince in The Florida Project - © 2017 A24 Films.

The Florida Project (A24 Films)

Rated R for language throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material.

Starring Brooklynn Kimberly Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones, Macon Blair, Mela Murder.

Written by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch.

Directed by Sean Baker.

GRADE: A

REVIEW:

Raising children isn’t for wimps. It’s a tough gig, and it takes more than the ability to keep food in stomachs, clothes on backs and a roof overhead. It takes a lifetime of emotional investment, selfless service and a lot of joy and tears. The thing is, anyone can procreate, regardless of means or commitment necessary to being a good parent. One such character study is The Florida Project, a new film from Sean Baker about a single mom trying to take care of her daughter while living in a down & out motel on the outskirts of Orlando.

Brooklyn Prince plays the young “Moonee,” a little girl who finds friends and adventure in and around the purple-tinted Magic Kingdom motel near Disney World. Her mother Halley (played by Bria Viniate in her screen debut), is a pot-smoking free spirit who hustles tourists selling cheap perfume or anything else she can get her hands on. Motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) does all he can to keep Halley and the other regular tenants under control, while keeping a close eye on the children, including the mischievous Moonee. When Halley begins alienates her only friends, she also begins to find new ways to make money, including prostitution and theft. State child service folks take notice, and Halley’s parental rights are jeopardized. Despite his apparent indifference, Bobby continues to try and save Halley, if only for Moonee’s good.

The Florida Project is a heartfelt, beautiful postcard depicting a very miserable segment of humanity; a slice of life that often goes unrecognized by the general public. Sean Baker’s penchant for capturing beautiful colors and a childlike view of an otherwise dreary existence is masterful. He truly demonstrates the world as seen through the filter of childlike innocence, even a world where prostitutes, drug users and crime are the norm.

Bria Viniate’s debut performance is certain to get a little attention when awards season rolls around. She was discovered on Instagram by Baker, who opted to stay away from well-known actors, other than Dafoe. Speaking of Dafoe, his performance in The Florida Project is his best in years, delivering a genuine portrayal of humanity.

Some of the seedy, social issues surrounding The Florida Project may be disturbing for some, who will have little sympathy for Halley, obviously unfit to be a parent, yet the only parent Moonee has. One has to wonder if Bobby’s help enables more bad parenting, or is necessary to keep Moonee fed, clothes and sheltered. It’s the kind of movie that offers few answers to society’s troubles, but it’s worth seeing.

 

The Florida Project Trailer

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