Saturday, 11 August 2018

DVD/Blu-ray Mini-Review - The Florida Project (15)

Jance, do you wanna go play with the kids from the purple place?
The Gist: Moonee is a six-year-old girl living with her mother Halley in rented motel accommodation just outside Disney World. Part of a community members of which are all one step from homelessness, she lives out wild adventures with her pals Jancey and Scooty over one long, hot Floridian summer. Halley meanwhile is attempting to scratch out a living, while shielding her daughter from the precarious truth of their existence, her struggles and bad decisions observed by gruff but benevolent motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe). How long Moonee can remain in her idyllic bubble of childhood is worryingly uncertain.  
The Juice: Directed and co-written by Sean Baker, The Florida Project presents a strangely magical picture of growing up in a less than magical setting. Often shot from ground-level, it provides a child's eye view of this dingy urban landscape, using vivid pastel colours - bubblegum pinks and zingy oranges - to suggest how a young imagination can transform anything into its own Magic Kingdom. The irony is glaring - Moonee is allowed to run semi-feral, her reckless mother unable to escape this grim poverty trap on the Disney doorstep. Baker shoots it all impressionistically, halfway between drama and documentary-style, drawing remarkable performances from a largely inexperienced cast. The kids give raw, unforced performances that are charming and appalling to equal degrees, with Brooklynn Prince uncannily good as the precocious young Moonee. Instagram discovery Bria Vinaite plays the mother as a laughing, swearing whirlwind of immaturity, both loving and neglectful. And Dafoe blends into it all perfectly as the kids' de facto guardian - exasperated but sympathetic, and doing what little he can to help them all out.
The Judgement: 9/10. This is what independent cinema does best - crafting a sense of real lives, shot by painstakingly edited shot. Baker finds beauty and joy within a situation of borderline-despair, and deep humanity inside characters not always easy to like. He sugar-coats nothing, yet finds a way inside the minds of these naughty, untamed motel children, reminiscent of 1962's To Kill a Mockingbird (only with no Gregory Peck to impose order and wisdom). The film never judges its characters, it simply observes, and lets us ponder how people become this marginalised within a wealthy society. Abrasive, funny and in the end terribly moving, The Florida Project would most definitely have featured on my 2017 Top Ten, had I caught up with it in time. Find it and see it.

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