“The Florida Project” is the latest film from director Sean Baker, starring Willem Dafoe as a hotel manager and Bria Vinai as Halley, one of his most challenging tenants.
The stars of the film are the child actors, Brooklynn Prince (Moonee) and Valeria Cotto (Jancey), who turn The Magic Castle into their playground and bring joy to a bleak narrative.
The first act focuses on the children and their mischievous exploits at the hotel; they spit on cars and hassle residents, making the most of their surroundings whilst their parents stay inside and struggle to make rent. These opening scenes are hilarious and heart-warming and the children’s mannerisms feel completely natural, but there’s always a sense that something is about to go wrong as tension builds in the background.
As the film progresses Halley’s situation becomes unmanageable and it’s obvious by the third act that she can’t provide for her child. This makes scenes in which the children venture off on their own feel suddenly disconcerting and brings a sense of urgency to what could’ve been a meandering narrative. Baker pulls this tonal shift off perfectly, allowing it to creep up on you slowly before abruptly injecting dread into what is an otherwise colourful and joyous experience.
“The Florida Project” is a great film and one of the best that I saw at the London Film Festival. The direction is fantastic and the performances that Baker is able to get out of the child actors are exceptional. By juxtaposing the world that the children make for themselves with the altogether less wondrous one that their parents live in, Baker creates a poignant and at times beautiful film which packs an emotive punch.