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Marina Antunes [Celluloid 10.17.17] drama

Writer/director Sean Baker is an old hand when it comes to telling stories about the marginalized. Be it take-out delivery workers in Take Out, street hustlers in King of Broadway, sex workers in Starlet or a trans woman in Tangerine. In The Florida Project, he once again turns his eye to those society glazes over; the people living one step away from the street.

Moonee is a boisterous six-year-old who spends the days of her summer holiday hanging out with her friends Scooty and Jancey. The trio waste away their days the way we all used to, cruising the neighbourhood causing a little trouble, hanging out with other kids and basically staying out from the crack of dawn until the street lights come on. While this would have been acceptable once upon a time, and in some suburbs continues to be ok, these kids are hanging out in downtown Orlando in areas that are mostly commercial, abandoned and generally considered unpleasant making the kid's adventures inappropriate.

Moonee shares a room with her mom Halley while her best friend Scooty shares a room with his mom at the same bright-walled motel they call home. The Magic Castle isn't magical but it provides a safe haven for Moonee and her friends - as long as they can pay the weekly rent.

Overseeing the operation is Willem Dafoe, the motel caretaker who finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place: wanting to help out the less fortunate who call the motel home while keeping the motel owner at bay.

Baker and cinematographer Alexis Zabe capture the wide eyed wonder of childhood adventure and the feeling of invincibility that children naturally have but the casual observations they make about the adults are what make The Florida Project an eye opening document of those living on the edge; these are individuals who are one decision away from having their entire lives fall apart.

The Florida Project is at once a joyful celebration of youth and a cautionary tale of the horrors of society; the absolute best and worse in life. Baker doesn't only manage to balance the hope and despair beautifully, he delves head first into both and takes the audience along for the ride so that one moment we're awe inspired by the beauty of an overgrown empty lot on the outskirts of the city while shortly after we're freaking out about a creepy man getting a little too friendly with the kids.

Grounded by heartfelt performances from breakout stars Brooklynn Prince as Moonee and new-comer Bria Vinaite whom Baker found via Instagram and who embodies vulnerability and strength in equal measures, The Florida Project is both one of the most joyous and heartbreaking movies I've seen so far this year.

And the ending? Perfection.

The Florida Project is currently playing in limited release.

Recommended Release: Starlet

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