Set on a stretch of highway just outside the imagined utopia of Disney World, The Florida Project follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her rebellious mother Halley (Bria Vinai) over the course of a single summer. The two live week to week at “The Magic Castle,” a budget hotel managed by Bobby (Willem Dafoe), 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 overflowing with mischief and grand adventure as she and her ragtag playmates—including Jancey, a new arrival to the area who quickly becomes Moon’s best friend—fearlessly explore the utterly unique world into which they’ve been thrown. Unbeknownst to Moonee, however, her delicate fantasy is supported by the toil and sacrifice of Halley, who is forced to explore increasingly dangerous possibilities in order to provide for her daughter.
I was very excited to see The Florida Project, but I never quite got the chance last year. When I finally sat down to watch it at the beginning of this new year, I was blown away. It feels pointless to speculate where it would have landed on my 2017 list, but in short the answer is probably somewhere in the top 10. Sean Baker had made such a real and just absolutely stunning movie about growing up and also falling on hard times.
At the center of the Florida Project are the performances. Brooklyn Prince and her fellow youth actors, give some of the best work ever done by child performers. Prince is an absolute star. These performances feel so real, as these are how kids actually act. Bria Vinai as young Mooney’s (Prince) mother is beyond good. As someone who was what you’d call “undiscovered” this should be a massive career boost for her. I would be shocked to not see her in some future projects. Willem Dafoe gives one of the best performances of his career and should be in the running for best supporting actor during awards season. Sean Baker coming off his first feature “Tangerine” shot entirely on an iphone, directs this movie with such care and attention to detail. It also has one of the best and most ambitious endings that I’ve seen in quite some time.
The Florida Project is a movie that makes you pay more attention to the small things. If you were to pass the hotel where these characters live you probably wouldn’t take a second look, but this movie focuses on how there are people and lives unfolding there. The Florida Project plays very much like a documentary, because it is so real and compelling. It’s not hard to see the characters in The Florida Project as real people. Baker has created a world that is much more close to reality than we wish it would be.
The Florida Project is a very special movie, that is unbelievably real. It features three of the best performances of the year and some very well realized direction by Sean Baker. This is one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful movies in recent memory and one of the best films of 2017.