Set in motels around Disneyworld Florida, Moonee and her friends engage in unsupervised mischief over the summer vacation.
This is the latest film from Sean Baker, the writer/director of 2015’s Tangerine. While his previous feature was shot exclusively on an iPhone, The Florida Project is shot on 35mm film. The name of the movie comes from the working title for Walt Disney’s Disney World Florida. He had a vision for a new type of community and after 46 years of being in operation Disney’s aspiration never came to fruition.
Our heros sneaking some free ice-cream under the bluest sky and the greenest trees
The Florida Project is a great example of a film that uses its setting and colour pallet to tell a story that is both heartbreaking and magical. The movie starts out as a sort of Huckleberry Finn/Tom Sawyer story as our main characters, the children living in the motels, Moonee, Jancey and Scooty, explore the surrounding area with gawdy shop fronts and abandoned condo construction sites; the vibrant greens, blues, yellows and purples giving the proceedings a wonderous and exciting atmosphere.
However, not is all as it seems, Moonee and her friends are living in poverty and her mother is resorting to some desperate measures to pay rent at The Magic Kingdom, the deep purple castle the two stay in. The Florida Project seems to reveal something about the fantasy that powers the United States and the economic realities that lurk beneath the happy surface. Moonee herself seems to be taking an awful lot of baths and there is a strange old man who tries to hang around the children.
The film can impart such deep themes thanks to the wonderful cinematography. I have already mentioned the fantastic use of colour, but I should also mention the composition that distorts the odd spaces the children travel through, like Orange World and an Ice-cream stall as well as a giant wizard fronted store selling magic tricks. The sky opens up above the children reflecting both their size in relation to the world around them and their optimism in the face of the harsh realities.
The Florida Project has some absolutely stand out performances; namely from Brooklynn Prince who plays Moonee, who almost carries the film on her back, only sometimes handing the heavy lifting to Willem Dafoe and Bria Vianite, who play motel manager and reluctant surrogate father, Bobby, and Hailey, Moonee’s mother respectively. All these actors are able to do so much by doing so little, and it is absolutely astounding both to hear the language and the emotion coming out of a 6-year-old. It is these realistic performances that push the message home. We see real people with real struggles. While it can be hard to truly sympathise with Hailey, due to her obstinate behaviour, and while some may, and have, argued that this film is more of a tour rather than a deep dive, I think that it is commendable to bring this story to the screen.
Now, the ending may leave people cold and it may reflect a more voyeuristic attitude to its subjects, but to my eyes, The Florida Project has one of the most consistent cinematic visions in a while. Its colour pallet is phenomenal, the performances breathtaking and the story is gripping. It is a vibrant fairy tale, filled with all the great fairy tale elements: adventure, heroes and monsters.
You can watch The Florida Project in cinemas now