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The Florida Project: A Movie Review

The Florida Project: A Movie Review

The Florida Project

Close by where the tale of “The Florida Project” meanders along, there is a land that is next door, but essentially far far away, the Magical Kingdom of Disney World. It is a place that sprinkles fairy dust as wide as a rainbow in the sky. Sadly, little of that wide-eyed awe and childhood hope seems to settle on the adults and children that live in the poorly named motels that pepper the roads surrounding that magical place. Within their brightly painted walls labeled with happy-go-lucky names like the Magic Castle Motel, is where we discover the young residents, portrayed most magnificently by Christopher Rivera, Brooklynn Prince and Valeria Cotto, playing and wandering away their summer days. Seemingly care-free, but far from it.

The Florida Project

Christopher Rivera, Brooklynn Prince and Valeria Cotto.

It’s a tawdry strip of motels, souvenir shops, and soft-serve ice cream joints that is the playground for six year old Moonee (Prince) and her pals. Her portrayal along with her pals is where the heart and soul of Sean Baker’s new film, “The Florida Project” lives. All three are perfection, and without their exceptional skills, this piece might have faltered, but it shines as brightly as the blue skies overhead. Baker expertly unravels the day to day existence that is Moonee’s life. The three kids wander, filling their time with explorations, getting into all sorts of mischief along the way.  It’s beautifully chronicled in this stunning and simple straight forward film, especially that opening moment of friends calling out to each other. It’s all good this says, until one of those unsupervised adventures is the catalyst for a dramatic change in the alliances within that makeshift village, but these kids, so beautiful guided by director Baker (Tangerine) are too unaware to see what is coming. 

William Defoe, Brooklynn Prince

William Defoe and Brooklynn Prince.

Along side Moonee is her very young and very complicated mother, Halley, played exactingly by the wonderful Bria Vinaite. Sharing space and time, the two are barely getting by, on pizza and donated food, living out of a small motel room paid for by parking lot perfume sales and other illegal enterprises. Halley is basically more like a troubled big sister who hasn’t quite figured out how to make it in this big world. Survival is all she hopes for, at any cost, and even that is tentative. Her volatility is simmering under her casual saunter, but when it rages out, as it does in a shocking bit of friendship conflict, it registers as violent, disturbing, upsetting, and terribly sad, all rolled up in a ball of frustration and abandonment. We don’t really find out her backstory, but it can’t be good.

Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite

Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite.

Living in these abstract ‘projects’ are families that are on the edge, a Baker specialty. All the unique stories are presented within this solid piece of storytelling without hitting us over the head with their difficult and different situations. This motel may have, once been where families used to stay while on vacation at Disney World, but those days are long gone. Disney is not the cheap family holiday it once was, and as seen with the arrival of some lost Brazilian tourists, this is not the Polynesian Hotel. Not even close. The Magic Castle is basically a SRO (Single Room Occupancy hotel, like the ones that used to dot the more troubled neighborhoods of Manhattan). Having to vacate, with the help of the sincere and gentle hotel manager, Bobby, wonderfully played by William Defoe, one night a month so they aren’t officially creating a permanent residence, this is a temporary home to these people, and Bobby takes a casual pride in trying to maintain safety and security within the walls and floors of this sprawling and disordered village. Defoe is magnificent in his easy-going presence, caring and watching over all the kids, and even occasionally, Moonee’s mother, regardless of how poorly he is spoken to. He’s the father and care taker most of these souls don’t have and are in need of. The scene with the older man wandering around the parking lot says it all, and it’s powerful. Dafoe fills those shoes effortlessly and with such conviction.

The Florida Project

Alex Zabé’s cinematography of bright colors and bold shapes resonates a mood and ordered chaos that shivers down our privileged spines, but what Barker, with script assistance from Chris Bergoch, does is avoid judgement within this social construct. “The Florida Project” and it’s final scene resonates with the power of destruction, goodness, hope, and despair.  All combined in the sad truth of the situation. We know in a way that this might be the best thing for all concerned, while also understanding Moonee’s need  to escape from pain into the wonderment of hope and fantasy. Hope and fear lives within that run, and we want to join them, running free and fast, holding their hands, even as we know how temporal their escape will be. 

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My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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