The Florida Project

Film Review: ‘The Florida Project’

The Lido kicks off its rooftop cinema opening with Sean Baker’s spellbinding film, The Florida Project.

The Lido Cinema kicked off the opening of its rooftop cinema with a little situational irony. With the rain lashing down, we couldn’t sit on the roof and watch the film, so we had the selection of sliders, fried chicken and fine wine downstairs. We were to watch the film in one of the indoor cinemas and, in a lot of ways, it was perfect set of circumstances to enjoy The Florida Project. Taking place in a dilapidated motel outside Disneyland, the film demonstrates how one can enjoy their surroundings even if, externally, it looks like nothing special. So while the weather barred us from the Lido’s rooftop, the film they selected showed us truly magical things can happen, despite your surroundings.

Sean Baker, the director of The Florida Project, doesn’t like to do things in a conventional sense. In fact, if other filmmakers could replicate or even imitate what he’s doing, his work might herald a new movement for the era of post-independent, post-studio, and post-original filmmaking we’re currently living in.

With his latest, he went through some traditional audition-based casting to get Willem Defoe for Bobby, the hotel manager whose blunt approach to addressing the low-income renters doesn’t disguise his big, soft heart. Bobby’s sentimentality is taken advantage of by 6-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), the film’s protagonist and the sassiest kid you’re likely to have ever seen on screen. Baker and his crew found Prince through street casting, while they used Instagram to cast her 24-year-old mother Halley (Bria Vinaite, a natural even though she’d never been on a film set).

With a little more money this time around than he had for his previous film Tangerine, Baker shot the film using 35mm cameras, which lends the film a soft, almost nostalgic hue. Most of it is shot from low points of view, on the level of Moonee and her two friends, and for the first half of the film, it feels like you’re just hanging out with a bunch of kids. They spit on someone’s car and make a new friend when they’re forced to clean it up, they sneak into an abandoned house where their make-believe becomes dangerously real, and they play hide-and-seek underneath Bobby’s desk while he tries to keep vigilant watch on the security cameras.

This is such a wonderful film, it’s difficult to convey the kind of feeling it offers while you watch it. Because Baker is so sensitive to the cast of children he’s working with, having said that he felt bad for taking away their summer, he achieves an astounding sense of empathy. You’re somehow taken back to the joys of running amok as a kid—sad characters, dilapidated houses and criminal activity are all part of your make-believe. Things shift gears towards the end and the film delivers a few devastating blows, but it’s an utterly joyous viewing experience nonetheless, one we could all do with, coming to the end of a year like this.

– Tom

Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.

The Lido’s rooftop cinema is now open. Check the calendar for screenings.

The Florida Project opens in cinemas 21 December, and screens at the Lido rooftop on 23 December.

Disclosure: The Plus Ones were invited guests of Zilla & Brook.
Image credit: Variety