Review / ‘The Florida Project’ (M) *** and a half

WRITER/director Sean Baker pulls no punches telling this well-crafted story about life in the underbelly of American society surrounded by tawdriness and exploitation.

And a talented bunch of actors and extras deliver it profoundly effectively.

Meet Brooklynn Prince, an absolute charmer who plays Moonee, not yet seven years old. Single mom Halley (Bria Vitale) has used her body in a variety of professions in her struggle to survive and raise Moonee. Right now, the pair live on food handouts and what few bucks they can get by panhandling strangers who have come to see the sights at KissimmeeFlorida.

Never heard of Kissimmee? Bet you’ve heard of Disney World. The Florida branch of that economically-bloated, culturally over-simplified device for extracting money from people sits between Orlando and Kissimmee. Sean Baker’s film doesn’t go inside Disney World. It has no need to do so. Nor does it excoriate Disney World. Disney World’s awful crassness speaks for itself.  In Kissimmee it is a pervasive landholder whose iconography is inescapable, from street names to shop signs urging the punters to come and buy, buy.

Moonee, Scootey (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto) share an unconfined existence that does nothing to prepare them for life’s challenges. 

Motel manager Bobby (a pinnacle performance from Willem Dafoe) observes guests with eyes that, like those of the filmgoer, clearly see the social, economic and emotional environments of which the Magic Castle Motel is the focus. You wouldn’t want to stay there. It’s where Bobby lets rooms to people for whom the sidewalks are the next alternative.

As a title, “The Florida Project” is an enigma. But its substance deals convincingly with reality, combining gentle childhood innocence with ferocious parental struggle against insurmountable odds. You wouldn’t call it a fun film. But it invites people of good will to derive real rewards, right down to a denouement that provides not answers but an unexpected and poignant question reflecting what has preceded it. 

At Dendy

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