The Magic Inn is a cheap motel in Orlando, Florida, and the people who live there are barely hanging on. These folks, well below the poverty line, struggle from day to day just to make ends meet. But THE FLORIDA PROJECT, the latest film from TANGERINE maestro Sean Baker, isn’t a grim wallow in the lives of the poor. It’s a poignant, heartfelt and deeply entertaining celebration of people on the edge, all told from the point of view of a rambunctious 6-year-old girl who views all of life as a big adventure.
Baker’s TANGERINE was a look at the lives of transgender prostitutes in LA, and like THE FLORIDA PROJECT, it was a film bursting with energy and humor. Baker brings his eye for realism and humanity from the City of Angels to the Magic Kingdom, but he doesn’t miss a move - if anything THE FLORIDA PROJECT is a major step forward for one of the most exciting young directors working today. While TANGERINE was shot on an iPhone (and, by the way, looked stunning), THE FLORIDA PROJECT is sumptuous in its 35mm cinematography.
Baker previously worked with non-professional actors, and while he still casts most of THE FLORIDA PROJECT with unknowns and real people, Willem Dafoe is incredible as the gruff manager of the motel, earning Oscar buzz coming out of the film’s Cannes debut. Dafoe is magic working with newcomers like Bria Vinaite, a feisty 22-year-old trying to raise her child with no money, and especially Brooklynn Prince as her daughter, Mooney, who Variety calls “a real find.”
Truthful and wonderful, THE FLORIDA PROJECT is one of this year’s must-see movies.