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American films

The Florida Project film review: colourful tale of poverty and childhood fantasy that earned Willem Dafoe Oscar nomination

Sean Baker’s follow-up to Tangerine, his hit about transgenders, views poverty in Orlando through the eyes of six-year-old Moonee, played by the amazing Brooklynn Prince – who delivers a performance worthy of a Hollywood veteran

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 April, 2018, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 April, 2018, 6:02pm

4.5/5 stars

In the shadow of the Walt Disney World theme park, a young mother and her daughter live in a dilapidated motel, eking out a meagre living however they can. Sean Baker’s follow-up to the acclaimed Tangerine follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her friends over the course of one summer, as they make mischief and dream about the Magic Kingdom that remains out of their reach.

After shooting Tangerine on iPhones, Baker traded up and shot this on 35mm film to glorious effect. The lurid purple decor of The Magic Castle motel, where Moonee and her mother, Halley (newcomer Bria Vinaite) live, mimics the perennially cheerful aesthetic of their Disney neighbours, while the Orlando sunshine adds to the ironically upbeat setting of their desperate situation.

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To make ends meet, Halley hawks wholesale perfume to tourists and ultimately turns to prostitution. She steals from her clients and begs from friends and neighbours, preying on the sympathies of motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe). Moonee’s antics prove similarly disruptive, eventually attracting the unwanted attention of child services.

There are echoes of recent indie hits Moonlight and Beasts of the Southern Wild in how Baker perceives a chaotic home life through the innocent eyes of children. Positioning his camera at waist height, we experience the world through Moonee’s eyes, where the horrors of their reality can be magicked away by her fertile imagination.

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Dafoe won numerous accolades, including an Oscar nod, for his compassionate turn as a father figure to both Moonee and Halley, while Vinaite – whom Baker discovered on Instagram – also deserves acclaim for her naturalistic work. However, it is the remarkable performance from the little Prince that propels the film forward.

Moonee is wilful and rambunctious beyond her years, but remains a vulnerable child in need of love and nurturing. Her to-camera monologue, while stuffing her face at a hotel buffet, reveals an adeptness rarely seen in actors with far more experience. The film’s climactic moment of fantastical flight will surely break your heart.

The Florida Project opens on April 5

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