The Florida ProjectLondon Film Festival 2017
There’ll be no better title sequence this year than in Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. Playing out against a pastel-pink wall to Kool & The Gang’s Celebration, it marks the start of a film that’s both a damning account of the poverty lying beneath the surface of capitalist America and a joyous ode to childhood, a testament to discovery, mischief, and pure fun – all without neglecting the inevitable threat that comes with such territory.
Brooklynn Prince is an unmitigated revelation as Moonee, a six-year-old girl who lives in a motel with her mother Halley (Instagram model and first-time actress Bria Vinaite). This particular motel, the Magic Castle, is notable for being situated on the freeway leading up to Disney World, Orlando – meaning the walls are painted purple with tacky-looking castle spires completing its look. But the kids, Moonee and her best friends Jancey (Valeria Cotto) and Scooty (Christopher Rivera), couldn’t care less. Utility rooms, muddy fields and abandoned houses are their Disney World, and the happiness they derive from finding imaginative wonder in such locals – not to mention Moonee’s hilarious potty-mouth – is so infectious that, at times, the audience looked ready to rise to their feet to cheer.
Sean Baker, the director of Tangerine, is a master at representing the poor and neglected without a hint of patronisation or overt didacticism. Along with Alexis Zabe, the terrific cinematographer of Post Tenebras Lux, he’s created something in the vein of Andrea Arnold’s American Honey – neorealism with a Day-Glo, musical edge – but with a superior sense of precision and world-building. While plenty of this is all about the kids, there’s a career-best turn from Willem Dafoe as Bobby, the hotel manager. He’s effortlessly convincing as someone cynical and soft-hearted, whose combative rapport with the residents belies his sad, protective instinct for the kids. There’s a terrific scene where Dafoe improvises a routine opposite some herons that have wandered onto the property, and shows just how charismatic a presence he can be when given the chance.
There’s little plot to speak off, but Baker is so invested in his characters that the film never really drags. The through-line is the relationship between Moonee and her mother; Vinaite is also very good as someone whose brash attitude and lovely affection for her daughter is offset by a nasty, irresponsible edge that, at one point, gives way to a sickening act of violence. The Florida Project ultimately can’t avoid heartbreak, but manages to enshrine its young protagonists as lovable heroes; and while it’d be too modest to admit it, this is exactly the kind of filmmaking that should define the post-Trump era, something with hope, humour and humanity to spare.
The Florida Project is released nationwide on 10th November 2017.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2017 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the official BFI website here.
Watch a clip from The Florida Project here: