The innocence and sincerity of childhood meet the harsh reality of adult life in Sean Baker's beautifully depicted story about life on the other side of Disney world.
As mentioned in my review of Call me by your Name, awards season has truly begun, and Sean Baker brings us a dark horse (Moonlight esque) in the shape of The Florida Project. The follow up to his breakthrough piece Tangerine, itself a weird, wonderful, savage at times take on the life of a prostitute in America is certainly a step up as well.
The films setting is that of a run down motel in Kissimee Florida, and the whole film plays out in the shadow of the ever present Disney World. We see the film through the eyes of 6 year old Moonee, a precocious young girl with a lot to say and do, and as we find out, the will to get it done. She is played in such a flamboyant but vulnerable manner by newcomer Brooklyn Prince, in such a way that I wouldn't hesitate to call it one of the best child performances I’ve ever seen, along with Jacob Tremblay in 2014's Oscar winning Room.
Moonee and her young mother, Halley, played excellently by Bria Vinaite, who is rightly so garnering attention for a supporting actress nomination, live in the Magic Castle motel run by Willem dafoe's character Bobby (more on him later). While we are treated to spectacle scenes of Moonee and her friends, Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto) going on adventure after adventure, with every other scene one filled with bright Floridian colours, with the kids causing mischief after mischief sometimes with extreme consequences (no spoilers here), we as an audience are flipped over like a coin to have to come to terms with the adult decisions that Halley has to make in order to allow her child to live and have the adventures that make the film the spectacle it is.
As with no other way to bring in money, due to situations that arise in the Movie, Halley is forced into the dark world of prostitution that has almost become synonymous with director Sean Baker, following Tangerine. I hesitate to say treated here, but there are incredibly moving and heartbreaking scenes in this film with Moonee taking a bath, as children do, with music turned up to full volume while her mother, for want of a better words,' makes ends meet' in the room next door. That is the only 'spoilerish' item I will give about the films plot as I feel it's important for people to be wowed of this film by their own accord.
In the background of this piece however is a quite understated, calming, almost bulletproof performance by veteran Willem Dafoe.
His portrayal of Motel manager bobby is almost certain to lead him not only to the Dolby theatre next March, but in my opinion to the stage as he picks up a well deserved supporting actor win. He is certainly the backbone of this film, and undoubtedly just the experienced head that Baker needed for the role. His conversations and in parts confrontations with Moonee and especially Halley sizzle off the screen in ways that make it impossible not to love the character.
However, this backbone supplied by Dafoe is given life by the performances of Prince and Vinaite as the insatiable two leads, and it would be criminal in my eyes to not see both nominated next year as well.
There are many reasons to love this film, from the spectrum of colours supplied by Sean Baker, to the performances, to the blast of nostalgia it gives the audience (especially those who have been to Florida, myself included), to the incredibly surprise ending and so on....
But the main reason I believe this film really should be in with a shout of a best picture win next year, is the sheer brilliance in how Sean Baker has intertwined the joys of childish adventures, with it's bumps, grazes and mishaps, with the anguish and uncertainty of adult life, and really paints a (remarkably colourful) picture, both good and bad, of the 'Disney' life.