The Florida Project – VIFF 2017 Review

New Jersey-born filmmaker Sean Baker follows up his candy-colored transgender screwball comedy Tangerine (2015)––also his highly lauded cinematic breakthrough––with another vivid tour-de-force film, which brings with it an illustrious new joie de vivre to the essentia of youth, The Florida Project.

Set in a superannuated, very tacky and pastel colored corner of Orlando interstate, which Baker and cinematographer Alexis Zabe artfully reconstruct into a vibrant and gossamer-like playground that is guaranteed to warm the most jaded moviegoer’s heart.

Presenting a poignant and often conquering portrait of childhood as lovingly glimpsed through the eyes of Moonee (Brooklynn Prince, stunning), a smart-alecky six-year-old being raised by her unruly young mother, Halley (Bria Vinai, also brilliant) during summer vacation.

The mother-daughter duo live week to week at a seedy roadside hotel, “The Magic Castle,” which is managed by the compassionate but crusty patriarch, Bobby (Willem Dafoe, in a champion role sure to net him another Oscar nomination and, if there’s any justice in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, his first win).

Baker, somewhat in the tradition of François Truffaut’s oppressive childhood epic The 400 Blows (1959), presents an alternately endearing, upsetting, and occasionally romantically sentimental vision of tender age exploration and wonder on the serrated edge of adult misery and misunderstanding.

Moonee, with her ragtag and bobtail buddies find humor and hoopla amidst abandoned homes, derelict fields, ice cream parlor parking lots, and laundromats, and while the grownup world of booze-fuelled fist fights, and fornication is never far off, it’s also a star-distance away from the play and pleasures of a spirited childhood’s point of view.

As Moonee and her pals’ vulnerable existence is paralleled with the sacrifice and sweat that Halley must endure, the darker adult-world remains on the periphery yet ever present, in a film that Baker populates with the sort of people who almost never inhabit a Hollywood film, except perhaps as a one-note joke or as invective.

Dancing amidst squalor, The Florida Project is an utter joy, a celebration of aspiration and spectacle that will long be remembered as one of 2017’s finest and most stunning films. Here, in this heartfelt sphere of empathic understanding and picaresque perception we see a childhood, a motherhood, and an America that’s both exhilarative and deeply profound. Phenomenal.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.