Much as he did with Tangerine, director Sean Baker uses what is becoming his trademark observational tone, and use of non-professional first-time actors, to present a "slice-of-life" look at poverty in America.
It works beautifully, as we follow part-time prostitute and scam artist Halley (Vinaite) and her mischievous daughter Moonee (Prince) as they try to make ends meet. They live in a motel unit block run by Bobby - played by Willem Dafoe, one of the few "actors" in the cast, who is both infuriated by and compassionate towards Halley. It's sometimes hard for a character actor to adopt a more naturalistic approach to acting, but Dafoe adjusts and deserves his 2018 Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor.
It's hard not to be affected by The Florida Project. At first, it's in response to Halley's neglect of her child, and Moonee's disrespectful behaviour, but as we spend time with 6-year-old Moonee and her mother we begin to see their characters' complexities and contradictions. Halley is a woman who knows no better, cares deeply for her child, and is literally fighting daily for their survival.
Moonie, too, is a revelation. A child who knows how to scam money for an ice cream and give the fingers to helicopters flying to flash hotels bordering Disneyland, she has no real concept of what being poor means. She may be destructive at times but she also retains a childlike wonder and curiosity, spending her days exploring her neighbourhood with friends.
Baker presents all this without poor-shaming, without being overtly political and without lecturing, but there's a real rage at the state of America - and it's this balance that makes The Florida Project special.
Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinaite, Brooklynn Prince
R13 (Violence, offensive language, drug use and sexual material)
A powerful portrayal of poverty.
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