Sun­shine state of mind

A young cast give bril­liantly nat­u­ral­is­tic per­for­mances in this glo­ri­ous story about a bunch of de­prived kids liv­ing in the shadow of Walt Dis­ney World

The Guardian - G2 - - Reviews - By Pe­ter Brad­shaw

The Florida Project ★★★★★ Dir: Sean Baker. With: Brook­lynn Prince, Bria Vi­naite, Willem Dafoe. 111 mins. Cert: 15

The Florida Project is a song of in­no­cence and of ex­pe­ri­ence: mainly the for­mer. It is a glo­ri­ous film in which warmth and com­pas­sion win out over mis­er­abil­ism or irony, painted in bright blocks of sun­lit colour like a child’s sto­ry­book and of­ten hap­pen­ing in those elec­tri­cally charged magic-hour ur­ban sun­sets that the di­rec­tor Sean Baker also gave us in his zero-bud­get break­through Tan­ger­ine.

This also has the best child act­ing I have seen for years; in its hu­mour and its un­forced and al­most mirac­u­lous spon­tane­ity it re­minded me of Bri­tish ex­am­ples like Ken Loach’s Kes or

Bryan Forbes’s Whis­tle Down the

Wind. Steven Spiel­berg once said:

“If you over-re­hearse kids, you risk a bad case of the cutes.” But th­ese kids don’t look cute or over-re­hearsed or re­hearsed at all; they look as if ev­ery­thing they do and ev­ery word that comes out of their mouths is un­scripted and real. And yet what they do has the in­tel­li­gence and artistry of act­ing. In his own grownup role, Willem Dafoe gives a per­for­mance of quiet ex­cel­lence and in­tegrity.

The drama is set in a bud­get mo­tel in Kis­sim­mee, Florida, just off the grimly named Seven Dwarfs Lane in the shadow of Walt Dis­ney World: one of many long-stay wel­fare places for tran­sients and mort­gage de­fault­ers. Th­ese places are very much, in Dis­neyspeak, “off prop­erty”. They are not part of the magic king­dom, which is only glimpsed at the hori­zon and sub­lim­i­nally in things like a sign show­ing a large cir­cle with two smaller cir­cles above – Mickey Mouse re­duced to a cor­po­rate essence. Only at the very end of the film do we en­ter the Dis­ney World precincts, a se­quence ap­par­ently shot in se­cret.

But for the lit­tle kids who live there this run­down place does look weirdly like par­adise, a place where one sum­mer they en­joy pure, mag­i­cal free­dom, run­ning around its walk­ways and stair­wells and far afield into Florida’s un­of­fi­cial coun­try­side. Th­ese kids do some­thing that is a dis­tant mem­ory for most of us: they roam (a word I hadn’t thought of for years be­fore see­ing this film) just the way chil­dren were sup­posed to in some for­mer age. They wan­der from dawn to dusk and have fun.

Moonee (Brook­lynn Prince) is a fear­less six-year-old girl whose mother Hal­ley (Bria Vi­naite) has failed to get work wait­ress­ing or lap­danc­ing and is now try­ing to sell knock-off per­fume to peo­ple com­ing in and out of golf re­sorts. Soon Hal­ley may have to re­sort to a more ob­vi­ously lu­cra­tive evening busi­ness from her mo­tel room. As for Moonee, she can just hang out end­lessly with loads of other kids like her friend Scooty (Christo­pher Rivera), whose own mom lets them have left­over food from the diner where she works.

Dafoe plays Bobby, the ho­tel man­ager, who is peren­ni­ally ir­ri­tated with late-pay­ing, trash-talk­ing Hal­ley but looks out for her and is a ver­i­ta­ble catcher in the rye for Moonee and all the other lit­tle kids. Bobby has a fraught re­la­tion­ship with his own adult son, Jack (Caleb Landry Jones), who he calls over to help with jobs. Bobby takes a pride in his ho­tel, mak­ing sure it is prop­erly painted: a cheesy but some­how en­dear­ing pur­ple, a bold con­trast to the vivid or­ange of nearby Or­ange World.

Un­like most mo­tel swim­ming pools in this kind of story, the one here is prop­erly filled, func­tional and in fact rather invit­ing.

There is an adult nar­ra­tive thread run­ning through The Florida Project, a nar­ra­tive of disil­lu­sion and sup­pressed fear; but it comes en­cased in the chil­dren’s heed­less, di­rec­tion­less world of fun. The ex­as­per­ated Bobby asks Moonee what ex­actly she’s play­ing and she replies: “We’re just play­ing.” It’s an ope­nended, amor­phous form of hang­ing out. It is a won­der­ful time for them, and Baker bril­liantly persuades you that Moonee is the one in the real Eden, not the dull tourists shuf­fling around in Dis­ney World. But then they break into some aban­doned houses, and things go wrong for the chil­dren, and then the adults.

As di­rec­tor, ed­i­tor and co-writer (with Chris Ber­goch), Baker cre­ates a story that is ut­terly ab­sorb­ing and moves with its own easy, am­bi­ent swing: it is su­perbly shot by cin­e­matog­ra­pher Alexis Zabe, a long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor of Car­los Rey­gadas. Baker has the gift of see­ing things from a child’s view. There is a kind of ge­nius in that.

Run­ning free … Brook­lynn Prince as fear­less sixyear-old Moonee

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.