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Released: 10th November 2017

Directed By: Sean Baker

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinaite, Brooklynn Prince

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

As children, you may be small in stature but undoubtedly relish the vastness of the world, treating it like a candy-coloured playground that is without great consequence or responsibility.

Mischievously mocking the supposedly wise words of your parents, wanting to grow up so you can perhaps escape those restrictions placed upon such tiny shoulders, running with this rose-tinted view and applying it to your own kids. But can we really strive or continue to chase that fantastical ideal, in a poverty-stricken landscape?

Crafting his previous film Tangerine on an iPhone, Sean Baker’s ‘The Florida Project’ sees the director broaden his cinematic canvas to a majestic 35MM aesthetic, as he dazzlingly deconstructs the childhood fairytale ‘outlook’ of life.

Lean in its plotting and set over a slow-burning single Summer, we become acquainted with the inhabitants of ‘The Magic Castle’, a somewhat ironic name for a modest hotel managed by the grouchy Bobby (Willem Dafoe).

Regularly rocking a grunge punk look that wouldn’t look out of place in Spring Breakers, Bria Vinaite’s outspoken mother figure Halley is struggling to make ends meet, having an awful habit of pressing the self-destruct button. Mirroring this carefree attitude is her darling six-year-old daughter Moonee played by newcomer Brooklynn Prince, who gleefully roams around Orlando with her friends Jancey (Valeria Cotto) and Scooty (Christopher Rivera), seeking adventure in their tough surroundings.

The Florida Project serves as a magical reminder that sometimes life, really is all about the minor things we take for granted. The deep purples and rich oranges of its vibrant settings. The stunning Orlando sunsets.

All deliberately shot at a low angle by director Baker, to emphasise that imposing and natural sense of wonder, consciously placing the viewer like its characters back in a younger vantage point.

Whereas many recent offerings have had a tendency to bludgeon audiences with telegraphed moments to evoke nostalgia, Baker remains achingly authentic and spontaneous in his approach, as he impeccably tracks the lives of these colourful characters. Yet there is a certain degree of ‘mourning’ that counterpoints and lingers in this modern world. Selfies in front of burning buildings. The increasing sense of neglect that befalls these children. A lost generation seeking a ‘ray of light’ to brighten their existence, an aspect of the film that eventually devastates.

In a fantastic turn. For all his tough talk in laying down the rules, Willem Dafoe’s Bobby could easily be perceived as a considerate father figure to Halley and Moonee, frantically steering them from harm’s way whilst trying to maintain a respectable living. Bria Vinaite is compelling as she conveys the fragile and rebellious sides of Halley, which only serves to amplify the painstaking honesty and charm that encapsulates Brooklynn Prince’s performance as Moonee, who is nothing short of brilliant here.

The Florida Project is never heavy-handed in applying its harsh realities, accentuating the joy and warmth that fills many a frame of this truly wondrous work from Sean Baker.

Just captivating.