Director: Sean Baker
Starring: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Mela Murder, Caleb Landry Jones
Words: Joe H.
With Florida being known as the “sunshine state”, thoughts of glitz, palm trees and the magic of Disney World are what come to mind when picturing this warm and sunny tourist destination.
The Florida Project invites us to spend a summer with 6 year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), living at a budget hotel with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite), spending her days finding fun and adventure with her mischievous group of friends.
They all live in the shadow of Disney World (“the most magical place on earth”), a place that couldn’t seem further removed from their harsh economic surroundings, but they explore, get into trouble and have fun, and make the world around them a magical kingdom of their own.
We become absorbed in the adventures of Moonee and her friends, but the harsh realities of struggling to get by become increasingly apparent as her mother Halley finds any way she can to provide for herself and her daughter.
Halley almost lives a life that mirrors that of her own child – a care free attitude and not taking any real responsibility, and it’s through this that we see why Moonee is the way she is – she’s clearly picked up her mum’s attitude, at times seeming more streetwise than a child of her age should be, but there are moments when we are reminded of just how young she really is.
For hotel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the troublesome children and their at times equally troublesome parents are a constant headache, but despite this he’s always looking out for the residents. Bobby constantly clashes with foul-mouthed Halley, but looks out for her and seems to have a father-like care for many of the children living at the hotel.
As Halley struggles to keep a roof over their heads, she finds desperate ways to earn money, but her actions have consequences, and as the one charged with being the responsible adult, it is Moonee who ultimately pays the price for it.
The performances here are fantastic – there’s a mix of first-timers and seasoned actors who blend together seamlessly. Willem Dafoe gives one of his best performances in years, he grounds the film, with Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite as our central characters more than holding their own alongside him. Their performances through being first-timers is natural, and our unfamiliarity with them help draw us into their story. The child performances are particularly impressive, and we’re brought into their world as the angle in which the film is shot as we follow them is down at their eye level, so we feel part of the gang. It’s a completely absorbing experience where the problems of their parents and the adults around them don’t seem to exist.
The whole film is a kaleidoscope of colour, we’re immersed in a child’s eye-view as we enter and experience Moonee’s world. A moving and unforgettable story, one of the best films of the year.