We often tend to classify fantasy movies as movies with monsters, or elves, or space battles. Sometimes fantasy movies can be as simple as a narrative about the world that children can invent in their minds. In the darkest times and most cynical of realities, a child can find beauty and awe in their environment, and Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” is every bit a fantasy as it is a rich art house drama. It’s hard to imagine anything as measuring up to Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” from 2017.
In Kissimmee Florida, young Moonee is crammed with the homeless who can’t afford a proper accommodation. Known as the Magic Castle, is a garishly painted rundown motel in the shadow of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, is the unattractive world the struggling ex-stripper single mother, Halley, and her six-year-old daughter, Moonee, call home. In the eyes of young Moonee, this place is a magical playground of endless adventure nestled inside innocence’s protective bubble. The illusion of a carefree life slowly begins to break away, as Halley takes increasingly reckless risks to make ends meet. Over the course of a single summer, Moonee begins to come of age, even as her mom becomes increasingly reckless.
Sean Baker’s previous film was “Tangerine” another day in the life drama that followed two transsexual prostitutes and invoked so much of the raw realism and intimacy that “The Florida Project” does. Both are less glamorous tale about actual people, but feel deeply personal. “The Florida Project” is very much about the American Dream. It’s a movie that pictures a lower class section of Florida living in the crevices of a motel, draped in the shadows of Disney World. “The Florida Project” is a movie that pretty much sneaked up on audiences and stormed in with its deceptively simplistic and minimalist narrative.
Director Sean Baker’s film presents the feelings of youthful aimlessness, often times abandoning a narrative in favor of a series of scenes involving our main protagonist Moonee and her two best friends. Moonee is a girl that celebrates and absorbs life, and makes the best out of the little bit that she’s afforded. It’s the perfect wonderland that promotes an idealist fantasy world that neither of these people can ever really obtain. Despite casting iconic character actor Willem Dafoe in a supporting role as “The Magic Castle’s” overprotective landlord Bobby (he’s fantastic in such a small role), Brooklynn Prince is the film’s real heart and spirit.At only six, Prince manages to carry the film’s weight with her natural performance as a girl who is woefully unaware of the hardships of her life and wiles her days away escaping in to parts of her world that make her truly happy. Prince is adorable, but also a tragic protagonist. Especially as she’s tasked with a young mother who grew up way too fast, and spends a lot more time hustling for quick money, rather than pursuing more steady opportunities. Director Baker unfolds an engaging narrative that is centered on exploring the world these two live in, the hazards and element of trying to make the best out of even the worst circumstances.
Baker is able to evoke so much insight about the lower class and pockets of working class living day to day. Director Baker only hints at the heartache up until the climax where–I promise–will leave you blubbering like a baby. “The Florida Project” is a rare gem that really deserves to be appreciated as an American classic.