(director/writer: Sean Baker; screenwriter: Chris Bergoch; cinematographer: Alexis Zabe; editor: Sean Baker; music: Lorne Balfy; cast: Bria Vinaite (Halley), Valeria Cotto(Jancee), Mela Murder (Ashley), Brooklynn Prince (Moonee), Christopher Rivera (Scooty), Aiden Malik (Dicky), Willem Dafoe(Bobby), Caleb Landry Jones (Jack), Macon Blair (Tourist John), Sandy Kane (Gloria), Karren Karagulian (Narek); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch, Kevin Chinoy, Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, Francesca Silvestri, Shih-Ching Tsou; A24; 2017)

A brilliantly dark social conscience heartbreaking comedy gem about dealing with the corruption of innocent children.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A brilliantly dark social conscience heartbreaking comedy gem about dealing with the corruption of innocent children. It’s superbly directed and co-written by indie maven Sean Baker (“Tangerine”/”Starlet”). He made Tangerine on his iPhone. His co-writer is Chris Bergoch. It’s an insightful character study that hits every right deviant note and is filled with raw emotions and a real sense of despair. This is an edgy film that gets to you. The Florida Project is set over one summer at a low-rent tacky welfare motel in Orlando, Florida, near Disney World, named the Magic Castle that is painted purple inside and out. It caters to the fringe crowd, forking over $38 a week for a room. The gruff but soft-hearted motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) finds he must deal with the precocious 6-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and despite her bad behavior bends the rules not to toss her family out. She’s a guest who loves to do mischief and provoke the other guests with her two rabble playmates (Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera). In one incident she sets fire to the motel. Meanwhile Moonee’s 22-year-old tattooed anti-social single mom Halley (Bria Vinaite) spends her days selling perfume on the street, being a stripper in a sleazy club and turning tricks rather than caring for her youngster; nevertheless, she offers her daughter unconditional love. In one exasperating vignette mom brings home a trick while her daughter looks in on them from the bathtub filled with toys. It opens with the credits flashing by and Kool & the Gang’s 1980 rousing “Celebration.” By the end we realize the song is meant to be ironic. The kids are terrific and steal every scene, nevertheless Dafoe fights through that and gives us a first-class touching performance that holds this wonderfully harsh reality film together.

REVIEWED ON 3/29/2018 GRADE: A-     https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/