October 12, 2017

VIFF 2017 | 'The Florida Project' Shines A Light

"They're good kids. Most of the time."
VIFF 2017 | Brooklynn Prince Bria Vinaite Sean Baker | The Florida Project

VIFF 2017Tangerine director Sean Baker's latest film, the oddly titled The Florida Project referencing the Orlando theme park's original codename, is a stirring, joyous, and heartbreaking portrait of a less than ideal childhood set in the Disney adjacent motel, called the "Magic Castle", doubling as low-income housing for the hidden homeless. It's a lavender soaked, pastel flavoured look at the bitter vividness and innocence of child poverty.

Starring six-year-old superstar Brooklynn Prince and newcomer Bria Vinaite as a child and her unemployed single mother, Moonee and Halley, struggling to live within their means in a seedy South Florida motel complex in the shadow of Disney World, the largely plotless film follows a group of precocious children passing time during their summer break. Valeria Cotto and Christopher Rivera as Moonee's cohorts, running around the motel complex, are just as lively and dynamic.

Prince is an absolute delight shining through the hardship with a playful curiosity and generous spirit that engulfs the camera. She carries the low-key but amusing antics of poor children passing the time and making their own fun. It's an immersive look through unsupervised childhood deconstructing the hardship and myth of American ideals effortlessly.

VIFF 2017 | Brooklynn Kimberly Bria Vinaite Prince Sean Baker | The Florida Project

Vinaite is all attitude and veracity while dodging homelessness or trying to protect Moonee as her free-spirited but very troubled young mother who acts more like an older sibling. In her first acting role, the Instagram star gives such a naturalistic and charismatic performance that makes her lack of responsibility and maturity clear while showing her love and care for maintaining her daughter's relative innocence.

Willem Dafoe is ever sweet and decent as the put-upon motel manager just trying to keep things together. It's an understated but poignant portrayal of a man torn between helping and harming the strangers he manages. Dafoe aside, it's a winning cast of unknowns anchored together by his utterly sympathetic demeanour trying to balance the chaos around him.

Baker's social realist film is as energetic and luminous as it is unsentimental. It doesn't mince things about both the reckless harm and carefree fun these children grow up around. It's a bright, glossy look at the lives of others rarely depicted dramatically with so much reverence, understanding, and empathy. The Florida Project shines a light on those less fortunate aiming for the same American ideals as everyone else.

The Florida Project screened at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Panorama stream.

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