See The Florida Project to lose yourself in the moreish candy colour schemes, Google The Florida Project to read more reviews praising those exact schemes. From the very first opening shot, the visual expectations are set high but with Sean Baker’s direction, Alexis Zabe’s cinematography, and the crew’s dedication, every minute of the film’s 1h51m running time includes composition worthy of framing.
On green grass, in front of lilac walls and orange storefronts, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her charmingly mischievous crew (Christopher Revera, Valeria Cotto) scam strangers for free ice cream, commit arson, spit from balconies and drool over extra servings of maple syrup. With everything Halley (Bria Vinaite) is doing to keep her daughter happy, it seems they are living the childhood fantasy of dreams and rebellion.
Moonee lives with her mum in the Magic Castle, a motel owned by the judiciously cool Bobby (Willem Dafoe). The motel sits on the dysfunctional outskirts of Disneyland, where the woman who ‘thinks she’s married to Jesus’ and the man who ‘gets arrested a lot’ also live. Characterisation doesn’t falter.
Although the film is set in the hue of summer, heartbreak and youthful misunderstandings bring the story back to reality. It’s impossible not to watch and fall in love with the incredible improve between Vinaite and Prince, just as it’s impossible not to watch and cry with Moonee when the probing childcare officers come knocking.
Moonee and her gang all appear oblivious to the poverty line their parents are cornered by, and we wish for them to remain so. The film watches as you hope for their innocence to stay far from experience but, with the film’s ending lending itself to Baker’s impromptu iPhone filming style (similar to Tangerine), something goes awry, and our hope for the ignorance of adventurous innocence begins to dwindle.
Baker knows what he wants to achieve and executes it faultlessly. On any screen, The Florida Project’s vitality and vibrancy are sure to transfix and inspire. In her first acting role, Vinaite plays her character with charm, attitude and plenty of badassery. The uncensored family and social dynamics explored in the film are what makes so much of it so special, especially with regards to the geographical irony of it being so close to the ‘paradise’ that is Disneyland.
We are let in, we are shown around and when the romance of innocence ends, so does our tour of the Magic Castle.