John visits a very colorful Florida in this eccentric dramady.
The Florida Project
Director: Sean Baker (Tangerine)
Screenplay: Baker, Chris Bergoch (Tangerine)
Cast: Willem Dafoe (Platoon), Brooklyn Prince (Robo-Dog: Airborne)
Runtime: 1 hr 55 min
by John DeSando
“I can always tell when adults are about to cry.” Moonee (Brooklyn Prince)
Yes, she can tell even more than that. Moonee is smart at around 6 years old in the wildly affectionate and realistic dramady, The Florida Project. She plays around a seedy Florida motel, The Magic Castle, with a bunch of other underprivileged kids, happy as can be, located across from Orlando’s Walt Disney World and figuratively a world away but maybe happier.
She’s young and bright, removing herself from the actuality of her mother Hailey’s (Bria Vinaite) checkered life as a working girl who mostly sells perfume on the street with her daughter and herself when necessary. The film is a pastiche of humorous and dark scenes frequently from Moonee’s childlike point of view and other times from the view of the manager, Bobby (Willem Dafoe), who constantly arbitrates the fights and misdemeanors of his low-budget motel ($38 per night).
Washing machines need to be repaired, bed bugs need to be exterminated, and Moonee and friends need saving from hovering social workers and their moms’ checkered lives. But writer-director Sean Baker’s genius is to find life affirmation in almost every scene with Moonee, a perpetual motion smart-ass you want to take home with you because you know she’ll make life worth living.
While The Florida Project (title from Disneyland’s East Coast offshoot plans) takes us through some funny and wrenching vignettes about the lower depths of society, Alexis Zabe’s 35 mm brilliance provides the ambience that is purely Florida tacky with lavender stucco motels, ice cream sundae-shaped stands, a Machine Gun America store, and pastel colored, abandoned hotels and condos. Although to many of us these are just the gaudy trappings of the Florida we pass through and look down on, for Moonee and her gang these are home and a font of interesting eccentricities.
The Florida Project does just about better than any film in recent memory at evoking the wonder of childhood, its energy and endless creativity. Because the film is located in a run-down motel with out-of-luck residents, it accentuates the essential goodness of children, and occasionally adults.
Situated across from one of the premiere playgrounds of the developed world, ironies abound and goodness is authentic. The last scene, with Baker using the digital I Phone filming of Tangerine, is worth waiting for, a confirmation that worlds can collide to fitting effect if not dreamy.
“The freshness of the future,” the kids shout. I agree.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com