LFF 2017: Gloriously impish and humane dramedy from Tangerine's Sean Baker
Sean Baker follows the raucous and triumphant Tangerine with another low-key masterpiece; like that juicy fruit, The Florida Project is both sweet and a little sour as it tags along with a pack of adorable urchins. It's a gloriously impish endeavour in which the key word is colour, from popping pastels to its quirky characters, sassy retorts and incidental charms. The vivacity with which Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch depict the escapades of their outcasts is in evidence from the get-go: Kool & the Gang's 'Celebration' opens the film in shamelessly spirited style.
A star is born in Brooklynn Prince, luminous as six-year-old Moonee. Raised in the vicinity of Florida's Disney World by single parent Halley (Bria Vinaite), this fearless, sharp-tongued youngster is surrounded by cheap approximations of the Disney experience as her mom scratches out a living on the wrong side of the law. Her home is a luridly painted lilac motel dubbed The Magic Castle, while her and pal Scooty (Christopher Rivera) terrorise guests at neighbouring establishment the Futureland Inn (slogan: 'Stay in the Future, Today'), ultimately making a friend in Jancey (Valeria Cotto).
The Florida Project explores the flipside of parental irresponsibility, the thrill of being able to run wild and free in a chaotic, carnival-esque landscape. Moonee's temper-tantrum throwing, trash-talking mom behaves like a peer, yet loves her daughter and showers her with treats when she can. It's not blind to the dangers and precariousness of Moonee's situation but doesn't hammer this home. Instead, the motel's affable, overworked manager Bobby (gorgeously subtle work from Willem Dafoe) is the film's quietly concerned presence, making it his business to discreetly – and in one altercation with an elderly predator, not so discreetly – watch over Moonee and her chums.
The fluid visuals are a perfect match for the curiosity and exuberance of the kids, who prowl the motel grounds and beyond on the hunt for mischief. The sunny perspective of Baker and cinematographer Alexis Zabe (Post Tenebras Lux) really is something to behold in a film resplendent with affection for its characters, while the kitsch environs are a rich source of cinematic spectacle. At a stroke, vulgarity becomes majesty as the pair remind us that you can find beauty everywhere when you see the world through the eyes of a child.
Screened as part of the London Film Festival 2017. General release from Fri 10 Nov.