Following the success of his iconic iPhone movie, Tangerine (2015), director Sean Baker has accomplished another triumph in filmmaking with The Florida Project. Set in the land of theme parks and tourism, on the peripheries of ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’, this film follows the young inhabitants of a motel who exist on the margins of society, far removed from the superficial, commercialised ‘magic’ that saturates their surroundings. It is a joyful yet bittersweet depiction of childhood that, whilst relishing in the playful innocence of youth, simultaneously portrays the struggle of subsistence faced by the adult members of this unconventional community.
At the forefront of the film is feisty six-year-old Moonee and her motley bunch of friends, all of whom are long-term residents of neighbouring run-down motels. The film follows them in their haze of youth as they occupy their summer break, causing mischief in abandoned houses, scavenging for ice cream money and pestering the stern yet kind motel manager. The film is a brightly coloured celebration of childhood, frivolity and friendship. But underlying the children’s blissful playfulness are glimpses into the reality of their lives; existences reliant on food banks, donations and loans to cover the rent of their motel rooms.
The strength and success of this film lies in the outstanding performance from its cast. Strong, authentic and emotive breakthrough performances from Brookylnn Prince (as Moonee) and unknown actress Bria Vinaite as Halley (Moonee’s struggling young mother) are sure to firmly establish these fresh faces as serious talents to watch. Willem Dafoe, a more familiar on-screen presence, also delivers an expectedly brilliant performance as Bobby, the motel manager, whose caring yet authoritarian character is utterly endearing.
This is a film that successfully provides a jubilant, rose-tinted, juvenile perspective on what would, to most, appear to be a harsh, adult environment. With a sparse plot, the film really focuses on and savours the blissful ignorance of its protagonists, and demonstrates an optimism in the face of adversity that is addictively charming.
Image: Altitude Films