"The Florida Project” brings audiences into the world of six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), who lives with her mother in a hotel in Kissimmee, Florida. Living next door to Disney World may be a dream for some, but the reality is bleak. The happiest place on earth is also the home of struggling families, limited opportunity and abandoned housing. The film follows Moonee and her friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera), Dicky (Aiden Malik) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto) during a tumultuous summer. The children deal with circumstances that many of us have never experienced. Their lives are crafted by these experiences, and the normality of their world is both enlightening and disheartening.
Sean Baker is a writer and director who can effortlessly and beautifully shape emotions and images to fit his own needs, and that's a particular talent that you normally do not get to experience in modern cinema. His work is grounded, gritty, real and somehow overwhelmingly hopeful and joyous. With “The Florida Project,” Baker takes the opportunity to use camera work that defines the picture from the viewpoint of the children. Many shots are filmed from a low-angle perspective, subtly embedding in the audience that they are Moonee or her friends. Key moments in their lives are shot from their viewpoint as well, leaving the audience to interpret what may be happening -- for instance, when a door is shut leaving Moonee alone in a bathroom. These moments occur abruptly, giving us the sense that something has noticeably changed. There is something in Baker’s work that speaks to what it means to be human. Empathy, pain and joy reverberate through his work in ways that you can’t get from other films.
Brooklynn Prince leads the cast alongside Bria Vinaite, who plays her mother Halley. There is something to say about cinema today when newcomers like Vinaite and Prince give performances that are more believable and heartfelt than actors and actresses that make their living in film. It’s refreshing to see new faces drive home what cinema could be. Willem Dafoe plays Bobby, the manager of The Magic Castle hotel where Moonee and her mother live. He brings authenticity and heart to his role, not unlike his work in the 2011 film “The Hunter.” Dafoe earned several nominations and Awards for his role in the film, including nominations for best supporting actor at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and BAFTA. The rest of the supporting cast are also remarkably real, especially the kids.
“The Florida Project” is an exceptional piece of film. It sheds light on a topic many of us do not see. We go to Disney World as children and see the magic and wonder. The sense of excitement that comes from seeing Cinderella’s castle or Space Mountain is palpable as children. We fail to realize as adults that right outside the veiled world of Disney are families that can barely afford to keep their children fed. The film doesn’t dwell on this. Instead, we see the world as this wondrous gigantic place, full of fun and adventure. The children take us on their journey throughout the summer as they wander the streets, looking at the sights. They peddle for money at the local ice cream shop and all share their prize in a way that many children would never consider. This is their world, and we, as an audience, get to go along for one brief summer.
“The Florida Project” is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital.