The kids aren’t alright in their postcard-perfect paradise in an insightful new dramatic film. Sean Baker’s The Florida Project (B+) depicts an often underrepresented underbelly of America with a timely, tragic, twisty Technicolor tale. A seriocomic summer idyll from a child’s POV ultimately blurs into an illuminating fantasia on the new working class of America. Set in Kissimmee, Florida in a community of extended-stay motel guests, the film is anchored by brilliant child star Brooklyn Prince who portrays a 6-year-old girl who lives in a castle: the Magic Castle motel, that is. Despite the tyke’s perennially upbeat disposition, she and her juvenile friends hold court over a strip mall and souvenir store laden landscape with scruples not too far off from the thuggish droogs of A Clockwork Orange. It’s clear that her role model in casual crimes is an aimless single mother, poignantly played by Bria Vinaite, helpless to know how to guide her daughter while continuously devising the next scam to procure the next meal for themselves. Willem Dafoe has never been better as the saintly manager of the dystopian paradise where he endeavors to hold the place together with the paltry powers he possesses while facing incredible odds. Despite some issues with plot and pacing, this is an extraordinarily important and unforgettable film. A supporting off-screen character is the famed “Florida Project” itself – Walt Disney World Resort – a vestige of privilege and fantasy, which seems to be surrounded by a sinking swampland. The little girl clutching her orange plush doll is the film’s sweet songbird trapped in a cage within the maddening marsh. Baker demonstrates a magnificent mastery of human observation and imbues his characters with incredible empathy. His Almodovaresque color palette and the resilient spirit of his featured denizens disguise the unexpected potency of his morality playhouse.
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