The Florida Project

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

The Florida Project

What if I say “Don’t go to The Florida Project because the acting is so good it will take a long time for you to recover from the sadness”? Or I can say “Just go, it’s that good.” You will go straight to The Magic Castle, a bare bones motel that lies nearly in the dark shadow of Orlando’s Disney World. At $30 per night, its appeal is limited. Many rooms are empty, and the ones that aren’t are occupied by unemployed people scraping by. The place is surrounded night and day by awful sounds – the roaring traffic from the adjacent thruway, the deafening noise of leaf blowers and helicopters passing low as they carry affluent tourists to nearby Disney World. These people are hurting.

Several women live here alone with their children as they struggle to come up with money for food and shelter every day. One of these is a young mother named Halley (Bria Vinaite). Covered with complex tattoos and long hair dyed with turquoise streaks, she smokes through the day while her six year old daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) plays outside with neighbors Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto). As those three children become friends, they spend their days playing together, pretending, and exploring the neighborhood. We learn that Halley turns tricks in her room to pay the rent, and is not just poor, but lazy.

It’s at this point that my mind began to look for solutions for the mothers and their children. That’s what we do, isn’t it, when watching people who need help? What’s going to save them? We want this young mother to figure out a way to care for Moonee and herself other than by scamming passers-by.

Our sympathy stirred, we wonder how writer/director Sean Baker and co-screenwriter Chris Bergoch will put the requisite smiles on the faces of these lost people. That won’t happen. They continue to follow the children who create their world from the things around them – making a game of everything they see – like celebrating a birthday by sitting on the sidewalk under the fireworks exploding over nearby Disney World. Moonee carries on a running conversation with herself and plays with her doll in imaginary worlds. She leads her two friends through all kinds of mischief and bad deeds in the actual world that surrounds them.

Sunk in the darkness of the unfolding story, we begin to marvel at the acting. As the motel manager, Willem Dafoe creates a deeply decent man with little ability to change things, and Bria Vinaite stuns us as Moonee’s wasted mother. But it is 6-year-old Brooklynn Prince who stops us cold as Moonee while we follow her through her world of incurable despair with a smile on her face and mischief in her heart. Writer/Director Sean Baker created a powerhouse little character and found a six year old actor to create her in a way that makes her absolutely unforgettable.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Florida Project
Word Count : 495
Running Time: 1:55
Rating : R
Date : October 22, 2017


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