Disney World. What comes to mind when you hear these two words? Do you reminisce about childhood magic and colorful castles? Or perhaps your thoughts immediately jump to overcrowded rides and oppressive humidity. Either way, the phrase “Disney World” sparks vivid images for nearly everyone.
Directed and co-written by Sean Baker, “The Florida Project” thoughtfully captures an aspect of Disney World that most people fail to consider: the people living in poverty right next door. The film tells the story of six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) who lives on the outskirts of the theme park along a tourist strip in Orlando with her rebellious mother, Halley (Bria Vinai). The story takes place over the course of a summer, during which Moonee and Halley are staying in an extended-stay motel run by Bobby (Willem Dafoe), a man whose harsh exterior actually masks compassion and empathy.
Frequently left unsupervised, Moonee and her friends embark upon grand adventures in their hometown, for at their age, everything is a source of mystery and wonder. Unbeknownst to Moonee, however, is the danger her mother puts herself in every day to provide for her daughter and to maintain her dream world.
Baker’s directorial choice to employ striking colors throughout the movie allows the audience to experience Moonee’s fantasy, which is filled with cheerfulness and light. Despite her gritty surroundings living in a motel with criminals and prostitutes, Moonee is able to discover joy and excitement in her own life.
Although Bria Vinai is fantastic in her performance as Halley, Brooklynn Prince, who portrays Moonee, is the true breakout star from “The Florida Project.” Despite her young age, Prince holds her own with the rest of the cast and has an excellent screen presence. The entire theater began to sob when Prince’s character started bawling over not wanting to be taken away from her mother and best friend. Willem Dafoe also gives one of the best performances of his illustrious career and is a highly likable character in the film.
Ultimately, Sean Baker’s film is one of the best of the year and a potential Oscar contender. The movie provides a unique look at childhood that is unforgettable, heart-wrenching, moving, and beautiful all at the same time. “The Florida Project” celebrates the whimsical aspects of life that we should all take the time to appreciate more often, as well as emphasizing the darker ones, which we often choose to neglect.
Simply put, “The Florida Project” is not only touching but revolutionary. It brilliantly sheds light on poverty as well as the invaluable experience of human connection.
If we can leave an image, a memory, a feeling in the hearts and minds of others, then we are precisely what filmmakers should be. Sean Baker certainly does that for audiences through “The Florida Project.” He embodies the true definition of a storyteller, and I look forward to seeing all that he will accomplish in the future.
Currently, the movie is playing in selected theaters throughout Los Angeles including The Landmark at Westside Pavilion and the Vintage Los Feliz Theater. Although the film will undoubtedly make you cry, it is one that is not to be missed.
Featured image source: A24 Films.