Friday, November 10, 2017

The Florida Project - Review

As the end of the cinematic year draws closer, the awards season contenders are all starting to emerge like clockwork. Perhaps one of the more promising films with plenty of festival buzz is The Florida Project. The newest film from director Sean Baker finds a very sympathetic approach to telling a moving story, and every second of it is exceptional.

Set on a stretch of highway just outside the imagined utopia of Disney World, six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her rebellious mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) over the course of a single summer. The two live week to week at “The Magic Castle,” a budget hotel managed by Bobby (Willem Dafoe), whose stern exterior hides a deep reservoir of kindness and compassion. Despite her harsh surroundings, the precocious and ebullient Moonee has no trouble making each day a celebration of life, her endless afternoons overflowing with mischief and grand adventure as she and her ragtag playmate fearlessly explore the utterly unique world into which they've been thrown.

More than anything else, The Florida Project is an exploration of this hidden population. A group right outside the supposed “Happiest Place on Earth” living just above the poverty line is an interesting subject matter as it is, but Sean Baker and fellow writer Chris Bergoch craft such a beautiful story within this world as well. Eloquently told through the innocence of a child, The Florida Project handles almost like its own theme park despite the harsh reality, where the kids make their hotel and the surrounding areas their own playground.

While the writing may be stellar, the true heart of the film lies in its performances. Willem Dafoe deserves every ounce of the buzz he’s been getting for his role as Bobby. It is definitely a more subtle and heartfelt performances from Dafoe and quite possibly his best. Bria Vinaite is almost mesmerizing in her role as Halley, just the right amount of hot-headedness and desperation for a young mother in this situation. But perhaps the most noteworthy performance is from Brooklynn Prince. The young actress absolutely steals the show here, in ways that very few child actors can, and carries far more weight in this film than she probably should.

Every single moment of The Florida Project feels authentic in its execution. Baker’s touch is exquisite, never losing sight of the through line that makes the film what it is. And though the subject matter isn’t terribly joyful, the angle of telling a child’s story makes the film really funny at parts. Even once the heavier moments come, the innocent view is never lost despite the circumstances or eventual consequences.

Overall, The Florida Project is one of the most human and sympathetic films of recent memory that’s anchored by great performances, magnificent direction, and oodles of childlike wonder. Bound to make many end of the year lists, the film is one of the best of 2017 and may even make the awards rounds when the time comes. If you only see one film the rest of the year, which is inadvisable mind you, please make it this one.

So what did you think of The Florida Project? Have you seen it? Are you interested in seeing it? Share, subscribe, comment below, and as always return to I Am Sam for weekly reviews and insight.

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