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The Florida Project

Find your kingdom

Sean Baker’s empathy for the underclass helped make his iPhone-shot L.A. street drama Tangerine an indie hit two years ago. His compassion remains fully intact, as do his storytelling smarts, in this considerably more polished yet no less absorbing followup, written by Baker with his Tangerine co-scribe Chris Bergoch. A highlight of 2017 filmgoing, it’s a tale of children growing up poor but full of wonder in the rainbow-hued motel-strip shadow of Orlando’s Disney World. First and foremost among a stellar cast of mostly unknowns is young Brooklynn Prince, who plays the irrepressible Moonee, the 6-year-old daughter of blue-haired grifter Halley (Bria Vinaite), a rebellious woman but devoted mom. Moonee and her pals Jancey (Valeria Cotto) and Scooty (Christopher Rivera) are undaunted by poverty. They’ve learned how to parley their adorability into getting treats from friendly strangers: “Could you give us some change, please? The doctor says we have asthma and we gotta eat ice cream right away.” They also love mischief of all kinds, some of it not so childish — like causing a power failure or setting fires. Moonee’s 22-year-old mom has to resort to adult stratagems to pay the $38-per-day rent. Halley scams tourists with cheap perfume she sells as high-class scents, and turns tricks when all else fails. More often than not, dinner for Halley and Moonee is takeout pizza or leftover food from a waffle restaurant. Willem Dafoe is the Hollywood star of the cast, but he downshifts into regular-guy mode with abundant grace — and serious Best Supporting Actor prospects — as Bobby, a motel manager with a heart. A little gruff but unfailingly polite and patient, he runs the Magic Castle, a purple-painted budget tourist domain that doubles as a de facto homeless shelter. Where other motel managers might evict for multiple infractions, Bobby turns a benevolent blind eye. Moonee and her mom reside there, after a fashion, pretending that they have somewhere else to go. They have plenty of impoverished company, itinerant people who occupy the Magic Castle and other candy-coloured motels along the strip. It’s their wonderland of last resort. Alexis Zabe’s rapturous cinematography reminds us that magic is where you find it. You don’t need a golden ticket to Mickey’s kingdom, although you can see it from here. Courtesy: Peter Howell, Toronto Star

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Directed by: 
Sean Baker
Running Time: 
Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto, Bria Vinaite, Christopher Rivera
Screenplay by: 
Chris Bergoch, Sean Baker

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