Set on a stretch of highway just outside the imagined utopia of Disney World, The Florida Project follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her rebellious mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) over the course of a single summer. The two live week to week at “The Magic Castle,” a budget motel managed by Bobby (Willem Dafoe), whose stern exterior hides a deep reservoir of kindness and compassion.
Despite her harsh surroundings, the precocious and ebullient Moonee has no trouble making each day a celebration of life, her endless afternoons overflowing with mischief and grand adventure as she and her ragtag playmates—including Jancey, a new arrival to the area who quickly becomes Moonee’s best friend—fearlessly explore the utterly unique world into which they’ve been thrown. Unbeknownst to Moonee, however, her delicate fantasy is supported by the toil and sacrifice of Halley, who is forced to explore increasingly dangerous possibilities in order to provide for her daughter. (synopsis via Coming Soon)
It’s patently untrue to say that children aren’t unaffected by the world around them.
But in Sean Baker’s The Florida Project – baker gave us the sublimely insightful Tangerine – we bear witness to the beautiful way in which children, in this case Moonee, played with delightful joie de vivre by Brooklynn Prince, and her friend Jancey interpret the highly unorthodox world in which they live through the innocence of childhood.
It may sound cute and cloying but as The Ebert Report notes in its glowing review, it is anything but:
“If I tell you that it consists largely of the adventures of these precocious motel-residing kids, it would probably sound like some horribly cloying piece of Hollywood trash, those movies that idealize youth and really look down on poverty. Baker does neither. And the tonal balancing act of “The Florida Project” is the main thing that makes it so breathtaking.
“We basically journey through the day-to-day life of a wide-eyed, funny, creative kid, the kind who puts a dead fish in the pool to bring it back to life and turns off the power to the entire motel just to see what happens. There’s nothing overly special about Moonee or her life in typical movie ways. Every day is a bit of an adventure for Moonee, but Baker is careful not to romanticize that at the same time. He recognizes that Moonee is kind of a unique kid, the sort who can get a kick out of making noises into an oscillating fan or brushing her doll’s hair in the tub, but he never makes her into a precocious Hollywood cliche of the wide-eyed innocent.”
The film sounds real and delightful, gritty and sweet all at once, the kind of story that reaffirms that even in the most dire of circumstances that kids can see magic, accepting their reality as if it’s just the way things are and just making the most of things.
The Florida Project opens in UK 10 November and Australia on 21 December.