Indie wunderkind Sean Baker continues his celebration of communities on the margins, in a movie that vibrates with compassion and energy.
Sometimes a movie needs only a place – a real one, sharply observed – and a community of people you might see down at the supermarket to cast a spell that hundreds of millions of dollars can’t fake. That was definitely the case with director Sean Baker’s 2015 breakthrough, Tangerine, shot on iPhones and vibrating with the sass of Los Angeles’s trans hooker scene.
The Florida Project, Baker’s mighty and empathetic latest, shows him continuing to develop his dramas from earthy resources. We’re situated at the Magic Castle, a ratty motel on the outskirts of Orlando’s Disney World. The little kids who gleefully run around these hallways and swampy backfields don’t seem to notice the disparity between their pastel-colored surroundings and the hard-luck life they’re living. Nor do they appreciate the dangerous choices that their single mothers (including a revelatory Bria Vinaite) stare down on a daily basis, simply to make the rent.
Into this riot of carefully choreographed noise and nonprofessional performances comes the veteran showstopper Willem Dafoe, who ties the movie together under his troubled brow as the building’s harried manager, Bobby. Dafoe knows from tortured roles (Platoon, The Last Temptation of Christ), but this creation—a delicate blend of protector, fusspot and secret survivor—is his richest, most lovable piece of work. He stands by the Coke machine, compassion pouring out of him, and the film takes on a saintly, worried grandeur.
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Cast and crew