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Whipped Into a Sunshine State

Marc Schmidt/A24

The Florida Project (2017)

"The Florida Project" depicts the impoverished lives of people who take up seemingly unending residence in a low-rent highway-side motel, tackily wrapped in lavender paint, and seen through the eyes of 6-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince). Moonee's cohort passes the time by getting into such mischief as spitting from the balcony at cars parked below, panhandling in front of an ice cream stand and setting abandoned homes ablaze.

Lesser filmmakers would have approached this as poverty porn, and eked something poetic, contemplative and melancholic out of this milieu. But Sean Baker, who directed and co-wrote with Chris Bergoch, instead treated this as adventuresome, wonderous and unburdened by the pitfalls that all of us grown-ups in the audience would instantly recognize. At the very least, he didn't pass judgment on or apologize for this life or the people who live it.

Moonee's young single mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), is by any measure an unfit parent. This is certainly not condemnatory of the fact that, as the film gradually reveals, Halley dabbles in sex work. But when the mother of Moonee's playmate instantly recognizes the need for proper supervision in the aftermath of the pyromaniac episode, Halley remains oblivious and resists rising to the occasion as an adult.

It's only a matter of time before Halley and Moonee must grow up. Indeed, reality here is every bit as cruel and heartbreaking as we know it. But Mr. Baker doesn't dwell on that, either. To Moonee, the magical kingdom is just on the other side of the rainbow and might well be the solver of all their problems.


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