TIFF 2017: The Florida Project Is a Joyful Yet Tear-Stained Glimpse Inside the World Just Outside of Disney World 

When the lights came on after the premiere of The Florida Project, from co-writer/director Sean Baker (Tangerine), I stayed in my seat, gathering my emotions after having spent the better part of two hours smiling, laughing and experiencing an overriding feeling of pure joy. The Florida Project is that rarest of films, a special surprise you can't wait to share with others and, much like Moonlight, which emerged from TIFF 2016 to stun audiences and critics with its simplicity, The Florida Project is poised to be the breakout art house hit of this year.

click to enlarge The Florida Project - TIFF
  • TIFF
  • The Florida Project
The Florida Project —the much-anticipated follow-up to Baker's 2015 dram-com Tangerine—stars a quartet of six- to eight-years-old who spend their days in the hallways and parking lots of Orlando motels. Most of them, including 6-year-old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince), live in The Magic Castle, a purple-drenched motel with a $38-a-night rate. The Castle rarely sees tourists, though, and the rooms are inhabited by the working poor, nearly all of whom are a heartbeat away from homelessness. It's the only world the children know, and they run from motel to motel along Seven Dwarfs Lane, referring to "the purple place" or "the pink place." Down the road is Walt Disney World, but it might as well be on a different planet. It's a place for people who have jobs and homes and who don't worry about where their next meal will come from. It's for people with money.

The real world, where these kids live, is filled with foul language, arson, ugly fights and regular visits by authorities from child protection services, the police or both. The film provides a glimpse of the America where people live day to day, meal to meal, rent payment to rent payment, but aren't defined by their problems—least of all the children.

Bobby, the hotel manager, is played by the often-unappreciated Willem Dafoe, and his unforgettable performance is Oscar worthy. When he's not preventing the children from getting into their usual mischief—or getting them out of it—he's protecting them from the ugliness of a world he knows all too well. The Florida Project opens later this year, and I promise you, if you don't make a point of finding this film, it will find you.
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