Poverty and joy in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom. This is The Florida Project.
Following his much lauded iPhone-shot Tangerine, director Sean Baker, has lost none of his fire and exuberance working with a larger budget and some well-known cast members. Indeed, Willem Dafoe, as the reluctant father-figure manager at the Orlando motel where this movie is set, gives one of the best film performances of his entire career. Baker, who has a number of microbudget features under his belt, has catapulted himself into a whole new league now.
The first third of The Florida Project blazes forward at high-speed, in a stylised blur, with some of the best kid acting this side of Truffaut’s Pocket Money. In very small increments things slow down and take a more documentary-style approach. A storm is coming (as it often does in Florida), and all of it is depressingly predictable. Just what exactly is a woman like Halley supposed to do to make money when there are no jobs?
While minimal on plot, the film digs in its nails on the day-to-day struggles of poor people in America. Even those with jobs are a little skittish, like the cab driver eyeing every minute not making a fare, or the commanding and level-headed Bobby, who changes his demeanour when the motel owner is on premises. That this all takes place in the Magic Kingdom’s shadow is a metaphor upon which lesser film-makers would lean more heavily.
But look out for Bria Vinaite, who Baker discovered on social media, and especially young Brooklynn Prince. This movie could never work without a performers of their calibre. Things look grim for Halley and Moonee, but we can expect a lot from the people who brought their marvellous story to light.
~~ Jordan Hoffman, guardian.com