Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her six-year-old daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) live in a motel called the Magic Castle, close by Disney World, that’s managed by Bobby (Willem Dafoe), a man 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 overflow with mischief and grand adventure, while her mother soon finds herself exploring increasingly dangerous options as a way to keep them both alive.
Writer/director Sean Baker is becoming a well-recognized name around the independent industry as this is his follow-up to 2015’s Tangerine, where the film was shot on three iPhones. But The Florida Project caught my attention after I caught the trailer before Brigsby Bear, and it looked like the type of film that will have an audience. Baker made a realistic and honest in the setting that The Florida Project takes place, which turns out to be an enjoyable drama.
There was a time when we were younger and we had the summer vacations that turn out to be memorable. That didn’t happen to me sometimes because I was in Loving Care, and it was a total waste of time. Baker and co-writer Chris Bergoch brighten that sense with having out with friends and getting into trouble, you know like most kids do. Seeing everything from Moonee’s perspective, it’s challenging to say the least when she’s going around with her friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotta) doing whatever to pass the time thanks to the beautiful look of the film from cinematographer Alexis Zabie.
Didn’t know what to expect from a six-year-old actress like Prince because it could go from cute to annoying in a second. But that’s what made her character Moonee a child at heart. Her performance was honestly great and charming for someone at her age. She’s the best performance by a child since Jacob Tremblay in Room. There was a moment in the third act that actually made me tear up. Though after watching what she does in here when I have a daughter, I’m so keeping an eye on her. That’s what responsible parents do.
Dafoe as Boddy, the manager of Magic Castle, delivers the best performance of his career his Shadow of the Vampire or even Spider-Man. He really carried the film anytime he’s on screen because of how his mood changes with any problems that surround the motel. One of my favorite moments is when Bobby is trying to get a stranger, who was talking to some kids alone, off the property and the how he was gonna handle it.
If you were to search Vinaite on IMDb, there’s very little to see since I learned that she was discovered on Instagram (likes most people are nowadays). Her as Halley is the kind of mother that you don’t want to be around. The problem is that not only does she have to take care of her daughter, but of herself a lot of times. Hopefully, she gets more work after this.
Though it does seem to have an actual story to be told here, I personally didn’t think there was a strong narrative in the long run, which can make the film feel a little long in the process. I believe the first two acts were stronger than its last.
After finally watching this after the Oscars, it’s pretty unfair that the film got shut out of this previous award season. Not strong enough to give it a Best Picture consideration, it could’ve been talked about. Though Dafoe did earn a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, they should’ve campaign this a lot more when it came out in theaters.
The Florida Project explores childlike wonder and fulfillment in what writer/director Sean Baker can accomplish with unforgettable performances from newcomer Brooklynn Prince and Willem Dafoe.