Like Tangerine before it, Sean Baker’s latest film The Florida Project focuses on a forgotten community, overlooked by the rest of society. This time, though, it’s people who are quite literally overlooked, as the film is set in the shadow of tourism and among relics of gentrification.
The film’s point of view is that of Moonee (Prince giving the best performance of the film), a 6 year old who lives with her mother Halley at the Magic Castle motel, managed by the grouchy, sympathetic Bobby (an uncharacteristically warm Dafoe). Both are volatile but caring shit-talkers; the biggest difference between them (besides age) is that Moonee is unburdened by life’s responsibilities; so the hotel and its surroundings are as good a playground as anywhere else.
Beautifully shot on 35mm film, the bright tones and graininess of the stock suits the shabby, sun-soaked neighbourhood. With a mixture of static wide-angle shots as the children charge everywhere, handheld closeups – at one point even a sudden switch to digital handheld (on an iPhone!) in the wildest, most emotional shot of the year – it’s inspired, unpredictable filmmaking.
The motel appears like a fairytale backdrop in its own right, an isolated, brightly-coloured hive of strange and sympathetic characters. The choice to open the film on ‘Celebration’ invokes feelings of nostalgia and authentic glee at the children’s misadventures. A comparison could be drawn to other recent social realist films, American Honey in particular. With the child’s perspective, this is a slightly more joyous work, the darkness of adult life remaining just out of sight on the fringes of the narrative, before gradually creeping in.
A work that combines boundless energy and childlike enthusiasm with dark social realism, Sean Baker’s wildly inventive style of filmmaking has resulted in the gorgeous masterpiece that is The Florida Project.
CAST: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto, Bria Vinaite
DIRECTOR: Sean Baker
WRITERS: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
SYNOPSIS: Set over one summer, the film follows precocious 6-year-old Moonee as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, all while living in the shadows of Disney World.