FLORIDA PROJECT, THE
Set over one summer, the film follows precocious 6-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates (Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera) and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother Halley (Bria Vinaite), all while living at a motel in the shadows of Disney World.
Review by Louise Keller:
A very special film about the innocence and corruption of childhood, The Florida Project is a cinematic experience to treasure. It offers as slice of life that tinkers with emotions as it meanders along, offering insights into the characters and the lives they lead. Tangerine director Sean Baker (Tangerine) has created a seemingly simple film and imbued it with complex themes and emotions. In terms of plot nothing much happens, although you could say it is about nothing and everything. The journey is memorable; the emotions real. Imbued with an undeniable joie de vivre, The Florida Project is an unforgettable whisper of fresh air among the stepping-stones of reality. The naturalistic, unselfconscious performances from the youngsters are astonishing.
I could feel my body moving with the rhythm during the opening credits with Kool and the Gang's compelling tune 'Celebration'. Yeah-hoo, goes the lyric, It's a celebration... When the film begins we are introduced to kids being kids: precociousness just for the heck of it. Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and two of her friends spit on a car. The action is symbolic. Most of the film's reality takes place at the illustriously named Magic Castle, a motel near Disney World, where the rooms cost $38 per night. The colour purple has been liberally splashed throughout - on walls and doors - as though it deserves special attention. It is clearly a place where the clientele is down and out and living on the fringe of society.
Central to the action is Moonee and her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite), looking like a would-be mermaid with scraggy hair tinged with silvery aqua. Two prominent silver studs define her lower lip and an unlikely bouquet of roses is prominently tattooed on her chest. Halley is the epitome of a down and out rebel, who spits at society. Not surprisingly, Mooney has become a mini Halley. Prince, with her impish, animated features is a rare find, encapsulating the essence of the optimism, energy, cheek and enthusiasm of childhood. Baker elicits an extraordinary performance from her - as well as the other children (Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera and Aiden Malik). I felt as though I was privileged to be peeking through a special window into the life of the child.
We watch kids being kids. Licking jam off a slice of bread has never seemed so appealing. Nor sharing an ice cream cone and delighting in Bobby's frustration as ice cream drips drop onto the floor in the heat. There are never ending scrapes annoying the residents, being provocative....
We begin to understand the rhythms of Halley's life, constantly struggling to make ends meet and to pay her weekly $38 to the motel's manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe in one of his best performances ever). Bobby is the watchman, policeman, peacemaker, babysitter and fix-it man. He cannot hide the soft heart that lies beneath his strong words and toughness. There are things to deal with: a dead fish in the pool, bed bugs, a topless sunbather.
Halley makes a living however she can: as a dancer or stripper, selling perfume on the streets, asking for handouts, stealing and eventually bringing paying men to the motel room. The confused expression on Mooney's face behind the shower curtain from her bath, as she is discovered by one of Halley's 'visitors' is unforgettable. We also observe Halley's gift as a mother - unconditional love for her little girl. Watch for the scene when Halley takes Moonee to a lavish buffet where the little girl indulges to her heart's delight. Her face says it all as she eats a strawberry and raspberry together for the first time. This is the life, she says with relish. Wish I had a bigger stomach.
We watch as innocence becomes shattered in a corrupt world. There are scenes that make our heart break. The final reel is rich with poignancy, despair and hope as the illusion of the impossible dream appears. The momentum of everything that has gone before swirls in an emotional frenzy. This is cinema at its raw best. Don't miss it.
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FLORIDA PROJECT, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones
PRODUCER: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch, Kevin Chinoy, Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, Francesca Silvestr, Shih-Ching Tsou
DIRECTOR: Sean Baker
SCRIPT: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Alexis Zabe
EDITOR: Sean Baker
MUSIC: Lorne Balfe
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stephanie Youth
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 21, 2017