‘The Florida Project’ is a Compelling Look at Life Outside the Happiest Place on Earth

The Florida Project is the latest film by editor, writer and director, Sean Baker, telling the tale of a single mother and her daughter as they live in a motel outside of Walt Disney World. Baker’s follow up to the acclaimed Tangerine is a well-directed and incredible tour de force, which explores topics such as friendship and motherhood. It’s filled with colourful cinematography and wonderful performances, featuring a cast mostly consisting of newcomers, such as Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince, while also having the seasoned talents of Willem Dafoe.

All of the performances are strong, especially the children. Brooklynn Prince is outstanding as the young Moonee. She is able to hit emotional notes that would be expected from more seasoned actors. Her on-screen mother, Bria Vinaite, is also excellent. Her performance and eccentric personality had the audience laughing at one moment, and concerned for her well-being in the next. Both actors give exceptional debut performances.

Willem Dafoe is outstanding as the hard-working manager of the motel that the protagonists live in. His character initially comes off as a hardass, but with each passing scene, his heart comes out more and more—including a scene where he confronts a predatory old man. 

Another strong aspect of the film is Baker and his cinematographer Alexis Zabe’s effective use of perspective. The film is consistently seen from the perspective of the children, which provides an innocent view of their dreadful circumstances. The most impressive shot in the entire film, where the audience witnesses violence between the adults over the shoulder of one of the children, has a powerful impact. Since the audience is witnessing this traumatic experience with the child, they are able to empathize with her in every way.

The film isn’t perfect, though; it does have some pacing issues, including scenes that drag, and others that feel unnecessary. For example, the laundry scenes feel especially out of place and thrown in to extend the run-time. The conclusion also feels a bit rushed and it isn’t as emotionally effective as it could have been. The last scene of the film, when Moonee and Jancey run away from the motel to Disney World, leaves unanswered questions that hold the conclusion back from being more powerful. It breaks viewer immersion in a rare lack of realism, as we watch the kids run away, and authority figures do nothing to stop them.

Between The Florida Project and his previous directorial effort, Sean Baker has cemented himself as a director to watch out for and has audiences looking forward to his next project.  Despite a few minor flaws, this film is a well acted, colourful, and emotional look at the misery outside the happiest place on Earth.

Grade: A-

(Featured Image: The Florida Project, A24)

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