A review of the recent film “The Florida Project”

In 1984, I took my son – then coming up to aged eight – to Disney World in Florida and we stayed in a hotel in the delightfully-named little town of Kissimmee. I would never have imagined then that 35 years later I would view a film located in such an unlikely setting as a motel in this town.

But then this movie, directed and co-written by Sean Baker and made for a mere $2M, is so different from mainstream Hollywood and shows the underbelly of the American economy where so many working class folk really struggle to get by. Shot in a naturalistic style with a cast of largely first-time actors, it is not always clear what is being said or what is happening, but this is not a work with a conventional narrative; rather it is a series of emotional incidents, concluding with an odd scene so different from the rest of the style of the work that we are told it should not be taken literally.

The physical centre of the film is the purple-painted motel The Magic Castle where the drone of passing cars is endless and the clatter of a helicopter is a regular occurrence. The emotional heart of the movie is six year old Monique/Moonee (played by Brooklynn Prince) and her young mother Halley (Lithuanian Bria Vinaite), who hustle and cheat to survive, with kind support from the hotel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe playing against his usual type of villain or oddball). Dafoe is excellent and and received several awards for his performance, but Prince is simply outstanding for her age.

This is not a feel-good movie but ultimately it is a celebration of the human spirit.


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