Off the back of his sensational 2015 debut Tangerine, Sean Baker returns with a joyous and touching childhood adventure, The Florida Project. Set amidst a backdrop of the harsh realities of surviving Motel life, this is a film that is raw, heartfelt, and bursting full of life.
Set over one summer, we follow six year old Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) who lives with her mother and numerous other castaways in a candy coloured roadside motel in Orlando. Far from the American dream and with Disney World just up the road, their budget single room home is a far cry from the plush hotel resorts. Moonee’s mum, Halley (Bria Vinaite), who is barely an adult herself, is more of an older sister than a mum and encourages juvenile behaviour with a complete disregard for the consequences. Despite their daily struggle to pay rent, nothing stops Moonee and her gang hunting for change, hosting spitting contests and teasing the grumpy yet tolerant hotel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) who has a heart of gold. For Halley and Moonee Motel life has the feel of Neverland about it where they are not growing up. For Moonee this is great but for Halley this will have consequences.
What makes Baker’s film so compelling is how it contrasts the two opposing views of childhood and adulthood on the world. Primarily narrated from the child’s eye view, we are plunged into a world of adventure, play and rebellious mischief. However, this is devestatingly juxtaposed with Halley’s care free attitude to life and the lengths she has to go to just to make rent or put food on the table. It’s what makes the inevitable bittersweet and so much harder to bear.
Everything about this film feels authentic, honest and real. Sean Baker knows how to capture beauty in the raw realities of life and is an effortless teller of human stories. Here we are witness to the highs and lows of life as the viewer is seemlessly dropped into the middle of these characters lives. By using a mixture of handheld and gorilla style techniques you feel as if you are joining Moonee and friends on their adventure or witnessing Halley’s life unravel.
With an incredible chemistry from the talented young cast, the unquestionable star of the show is the dazzling six-year-old Brooklynn Kimberly Princes who is an effervescent ball of pure energy. She manages to bring an incredible amount of wondrous childhood charm that is so infectious to watch. There is also another great performance from Bria Vinaite, discovered on Instagram by the director she manages to bring captivating and authentic realism to the role in her acting debut. Willem Dafoe brings his experience to film and showcases his talent and range here flawlessly.
This sun drenched world of wonder surviving on the fringe of society also has a more important message. Set against the backdrop of America’s failed economy, this film highlights that there is a problem of the hidden homeless in today’s society and aims to raise the profile of the situation and prompt action.
The Florida Project is an instant classic about the innocence of childhood and the responsibilities that adults have to preserve this. The magical performances will leave an unforgettable and lasting impression as this authentic, honest and heartbreaking story, on the edge of society, takes you on an adventure without any assistance from Disney.