2017 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: In his latest indie gem “The Florida Project,” Sean Baker puts the spotlight on everyday heroes hidden in plain sight. Much like his Hollywood-set “Tangerine,” he looks at the “shady” side of another one of America’s famous dreamlands. This time around the setting is a cluster of cheap motels located just a stone’s throw from Disney World. And in the same empathetic way that made “Tangerine” a highlight of 2015, “The Florida Project” is one of this year’s most warm, vibrant films.
Appropriately, “The Florida Project” is told mainly from the perspective of children. The film mainly follows 6-year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her band of friends, as they mischievously explore the world around them. With school being out for the summer, it’s a time for endless fun. Her young single mother Halley (barely an adult herself at 22 years old) can’t afford the same carefree lifestyle, however. With little by way of academic credentials, she struggles with menial jobs to be able to provide food for her daughter and pay rent to her motel’s manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe). But despite the challenges they face, Moonee and Halley are always eager to find the joys in life and each other.
Indeed, the fun is infectious as Moonee leads her posse on various escapades ranging from naughty (spitting on the windshield of a woman’s car) to adorably innocent (begging strangers to buy an ice cream to share with her friends). Carrying the film on her tiny shoulders, Brooklynn Prince will make your heart swell with her precocious, energetic performance. It’s truly one of the best child performances I’ve ever seen.
From a screenwriting perspective, the film spends perhaps a bit too much time on Brooklynn’s aimless frivolities. But the cinematography is always visually dynamic, capturing the bold, colorful essence of Orlando. Additionally, Baker makes every character pop, down to the smallest bit parts.
Indeed, Bria Vinaite delivers the film’s other breakthrough performance as Halley. She brings a raw tenacity as a mother who will stop at nothing to ensure that her daughter always has food to eat (usually in hilariously plentiful portions) and a roof over her head. Meanwhile, Willem Dafoe stands out with a kind, understated performance that could put him in Oscar contention for Best Supporting Actor. With his compassionate understanding of the underprivileged patrons of his motel, he feels like a surrogate for Sean Baker himself. Through “The Florida Project”, Baker beautifully implores us not only to empathize with the less fortunate around us but also to admire them for their indomitable spirit and generous humanity.
“The Florida Project” opens in select theaters October 6.
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| MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
| LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS |
| ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
| PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
| ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |