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'The Florida Project' is a clear window into another lifestyle

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Sean Baker continues his trend of directing dramatic, directionless films that serve as a window to an American lifestyle or culture that mainstream media rarely cover. In his previous movie, “Tangerine,” he focuses on two black, transgender prostitutes working in a very dangerous neighborhood. That high intensity film is offset completely by his latest film, “The Florida Project.” Prepare to laugh and cry at the innocence of these children as you walk around with them in their rundown Florida neighborhood.

“The Florida Project” is a slow moving window into the life of Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), a six year old girl living in a motel with her young mother, Halley (Bria Vinnaite). Moonee is a rebellious young girl who is constantly getting in trouble with the manager of the motel, Bobby (Willem Dafoe), and the other residents. The film takes place during one summer when a new family moves into an adjacent motel and befriends Moonee. The different experiences and adventures of Moonee and her group of friends are shown through her perspective, but these adventures either end early or are never concluded.

There is really no single plot line throughout the film as the camera takes the perspective of Moonee, a carefree child who does not need to worry about the realities of life in the motel. We only hear about how her mother is constantly struggling for rent and must resort to prostitution to make ends meet. Halley is always relying on her friends within the motel to get rent, money or food, while she parties and uses drugs with these same friends at night.

This form of storytelling is incredibly compelling and while not completely unique, it is well-done. The audience is not always aware of what is going on as Moonee is shut out of conversations as Halley both shields her child and lets her get away with anything she wishes.

It can be incredibly difficult to find good child actors. Sean Baker is able to overcome this, since most of the acting required is simply telling the children to act normally. Brooklyn Prince does stand out from the others for her strong ability to portray difficult emotions such as distress and fear.

The fluid and strong cinematography helps the audience really feel like a child again and identify with Moonee. Baker showed how strong and intense his cinematography can be with “Tangerine” and this film is no different. The camera is constantly either up close with Moonee or Halley or following every footstep of the characters.

Each path that Moonee goes down during the film is followed up with strong cinematic skills from Baker. The story, dialogue, acting and cinematography add up to create a powerful film that can stay in the audience’s hearts for days afterwards. But, “The Florida Project” does end on a weak note, a surprisingly differently toned and random finale. The sudden change in tone is a result of a very different character choice and cinematography. It seems that the message the film was initially going for was changed very suddenly. While the overall story is still well-done, the ending leaves the audience feeling a little bit cheated out of what the rest of the movie was setting up.

While the ending does hurt the film, it is still a close-up, personal story that brings the audience closer to this side of American culture and lifestyle. “The Florida Project” is a window into a part of America that is often forgotten about. To see this from the perspective of a young child strikes the audience deeply and makes the movie a special and important experience.

Rating: A-

mvalenti@theeagleonline.com


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