The Florida Project

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Director Sean Baker has a skill for peeling back the layers of Middle America to reveal the heart and soul of a confused and lost nation. After much praise at Sundance for his 2015 comedy-drama, Tangerine, comes The Florida Project. The upcoming film follows the mischievous and precocious six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) and her group of rascal friends whose summer break is filled with idleness, rule-breaking, and ultimately, tragedy.

Much of the film takes place in a rundown motel called Magic Kingdom, located on the outskirts of Orlando, just beyond the mystique and wonder of Disney World. Fitted with faux turrets and various castle motifs, Moonee and her friends roam “their kingdom” and do what regular children do: play hide ’n’ seek, slag on people’s cars and set abandoned houses on fire. The motel steward, Bobby (Willem Dafoe), is responsible for keeping his guests (well, residents) out of trouble. 

Set against the backdrop of many Americanisms – think jumbo department stores, novelty strips and bright lights – Moonee’s mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), does her best to provide for her daughter the only way she knows how: illegally selling wholesale perfumes at hotels or soliciting herself. Despite her misguided attempts, Halley’s love for Moonee is visible throughout the film; you can really see how devoted and fiercely protective she is, even to her own detriment. The tension really amplifies when Halley’s parenting style is questioned and she needs to decide what’s truly best for Moonee, a life with or without her. 

What makes the film a success story is the exceptional cast. Willem Dafoe shines in his role as Bobby, often playing the role of motel protector, mentor, father figure and disciplinarian, with a subtle warmth. Brooklynn Kimberly Prince is a star for her endearing and entertaining portrayal of Moonee, a child who has slipped through the cracks of an underrepresented group of the community. Her delivery of ‘I can always tell when adults are about to cry’ through to her emotional breakdown are two standout scenes. 

Fans of the acclaimed American Honey will see parallels between the two – it’s almost as if The Florida Story took the winning formula and ran with it. The film is an honest portrait of those living in the underclass, doing almost anything to make ends meet, living under the swinging axe of finding a roof, and enjoying the simple moments in life.

Since the film is set through the eyes of a six-year-old, certain critical ‘adult’ plot points are absent, which leave you gasping for those juicy moments. And the ending? Well, I’ll let you make your mind about that. 

At times endearing, heart-warming and uncomfortable, The Florida Project doesn’t fail to create the world through the eyes of children influenced by the poor life decisions of their parents.

The Florida Project 
In cinemas now
View Trailer

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