To outsiders, Florida is known as the land harboring Disney World. Rarely do they see what it’s like to border the magic, but never quite reach it. Within its bubble, there are people for whom the notion of an enchanting place is completely foreign. Sean Baker’s colorful, humorous and touching film “The Florida Project” shares the lives of a precocious young girl and her struggling mother in a run-down Orlando motel: the Magic Castle.
Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her friends are confined to the small region of their motel and the dreary, harsh world they are not completely aware of. Despite this, Moonee manages to turn every excursion beyond the Magic Castle into a spectacular adventure — her own Disney World. It’s a beautiful look at the innocence of childhood: in the worst situations, children always see the splendor of life.
“The Florida Project” is a film driven by its performances. Prince is able to capture both her mature understanding of adults and the typical desire of a six-year-old to just have fun. To see such a young actress command a screen is refreshing and mystifying. Willem Dafoe plays Bobby, the assertive but caring motel manager. In one of his best performances, Dafoe is able to infuse even the harshest gestures with compassion and delicacy. Moonee’s mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), struggles to survive day-to-day and seeks any way to support her daughter, though these solutions often do more harm than good. Vinaite is a standout as she juggles responsibility and rebellion.
The setting of “The Florida Project” is lathered with vibrant color. From the lavender exterior of the Magic Castle to the aptly-painted Orange World, it gives the film a painting-like texture. The cinematography by Alexis Zabe is especially intimate. Often, the camera follows the characters from behind, tracking their path and allowing the audience to immerse themselves in each journey. Whether it be Moonee, Bobby or Halley’s perspective, the viewer feels transported into their souls.
With “The Florida Project,” Baker proves his individual approach to filmmaking and his peculiar ability to unify people, no matter their age. He is able to transform the environment of a run-down motel, devoid of any luxuries, into a place that boasts infinite possibilities. Baker’s nimble and gentle eye for the pure joy of childhood adds up to an astounding film.
Finding magic in reality is a daunting task, but one children seem to have no trouble in discovering. “The Florida Project,” though many times poignant and severely real, is optimistic: it convinces us that there is always something brighter in every situation. Through Moonee’s determination to bring this magic into her life, the audience learns to bring a similar inspiration to an existence that can too often be uninspiring.
“The Florida Project” opens Oct. 6 at Angelika Film Center in New York.
Email Daniella Nichinson at [email protected]