★★★ |  The Florida Project

From filmmaker Sean Baker, writer and director of 2015’s critically acclaimed film Tangerine, comes another film about living life on the edge in the bittersweet The Florida Project.

Tangerine, which was shot on iPhones, told the story of two trans sex workers surviving by any means possible in Hollywood. The Florida Project, shot on 35mm, has a similar trajectory involving a single mother and her adorable 6-year old daughter surviving by any means and barely eking out a living in a rundown motel on the tacky fringes of Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida. It’s an area filled with cheap motels (with tacky names such as Futureland Inn) and even cheaper and tackier gift shops and fast food restaurants (Orange World). And like in Tangerine, Baker uses non-professional actors in this film.

Bria Vinaite is excellent as Hailey, a single young mother who struggles to find money to pay the weekly rent and to care for her very adorable six-year-old daughter Moonee (an excellent and natural Brooklynn Prince). Moonee has made friends with all of the little children at their motel complex (appropriately called The Magic Castle) in an area where Disney did not sprinkle magic dust on. The children spend their days getting up to no good, causing mayhem wherever they go, much to the annoyance of the motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe – in an award-worthy performance). Hailey’s downstairs neighbour Ashley (Mela Murder) works at the nearby Waffle House and gives them free food, but after an incident that involves her son and Moonee, she forbids her son to hang out with Moonee, and severs her friendship with Hailey. One thing leads to another and slowly the magic seeps out of The Magic Castle.

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The Florida Project is just fantastic. While it doesn’t quite come close to Tangerine with its sarcastic and biting humour, it nonetheless is a cute and charming movie of childhood through a little girl’s eyes and the hard truths that reality will eventually rear its ugly head. And the cast are just superb. Baker, who co-wrote the script with Chris Bergoch, has another winner on his hands.