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The Florida Project

The innocence of childhood and the realities of poverty come together in this beautiful drama

© Sweet Tomato Films Six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her out-of-work exotic dancer mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) live week to week at The Magic Castle, a budget motel full of poverty-stricken families. For Moonee, each day is a celebration of life full of mischief and adventure. But Halley is forced into increasingly dangerous situations to provide for her daughter.
     Six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince: Robo-Dog: Airborne) is a happy girl. She lives at the Magic Castle motel with her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite in her screen debut) and spends her days exploring along Florida highways. The hotel has become temporary housing for poverty-stricken families, and Moonee watches fights, crimes and life dramas with fascination.
     The girl knows how to scam ice cream from strangers, snatch prime donation items from the church van and help her mom sell perfume to tourists. She spits on cars, throws rocks through windows of abandoned houses and plays with the other kids who live at the motels on this desolate stretch of highway.
     As Moonee wanders, her mother, an out-of-work exotic dancer with a volatile personality, spends her days smoking pot and watching TV. Out of money and facing eviction, Halley turns to prostitution, leaving Mooney in the bathtub as she sees clients.
     Overseeing the chaos at the Magic Castle motel is harried manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe: The Great Wall). He holds the ramshackle motel together physically and emotionally, keeping up repairs and watching over the children when he can. 
      Will reality crush Moonee as it did her mother?
      Touching and beautifully shot, The Florida Project takes a gorgeous look at the relentless positivity of childhood. Director Sean Baker (Tangerine) is a master of hyper-real filmmaking, shooting his movies in a documentary style that makes them feel vital. He’s also good at exploring the children’s perspective, keeping the camera with Moonee to capture her joy and wonder at the world around her.
     It’s a testament to Baker’s power as a filmmaker that we can believe in Moonee’s delight while understanding that she’s in jeopardy. 
     As Moonee, Prince is the heart of the film. She gives an admirable and endearing emotional range to this precocious, boisterous child, who happily parrots phrases learned from adults and acts sexy like her mother. We’re charmed by her exuberance even as we cringe at how dire her home life has become.
     Tragic and beautiful, The Florida Project is a rare piece of filmmaking. 
Great Drama • R • 115 mins.
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