The Florida Project tells the story of a 6 year old named Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). They live in a semi-seedy motel near Disney World in Florida. It’s summertime and the kids roam free.
Willem Dafoe as Bobby, the motel manager, is the only “name” actor in the film. The group of unknowns, including the children, in The Florida Project all turn in excellent performances. Willem Dafoe shines in this part. His affable character is like nothing you’ve seen him do before. He received Oscar, Golden Globes, BAFTA, and Screen Actors Guild nominations for his role in the film.
His job is a little like herding cats, especially with so many children running loose and mothers like Halley who are barely scraping by.
Halley is like a child herself. She has no job skills and no control over her emotions. She’s defiant and foul-mouthed. (Moonee talks just like her.) She loves Moonee and does her best for her, but the things she does to pay her rent are not always legal. When she does get her hands on money she doesn’t do anything sensible with it.
Moonee and her friends explore everything within running distance of their motel, and sometimes do things that are really stupid – they are 6 years old, after all, and in charge of their own activities.
The children are loved and cherish their wild freedom, but the parents know how close to the edge they are. Some have jobs. Others, like Halley, work at scams and schemes that sometimes backfire.
We experience most of the film with Moonee, who laughs and plays and runs and has a great time just being a kid. But we also see what the parents are doing, and how Bobby tries to protect the children and help struggling moms like Halley.
It’s beautiful, sun drenched, color saturated Florida. But it’s sad, too, because it’s a portrait of a failed America. Underpaid, under educated, desperate people one paycheck from homelessness are everywhere in America.
Next door to the shining Mecca of Disney World live a whole society of people whose lives are played out in a motel room with no ice machine and broken washing machines. They are just like the people who spend $5000 in a weekend to go to Disney World, except they don’t have $5000 to spend on a weekend. Inequality damages lives and breaks hearts. Even the breathless joys of childhood don’t hide that truth.
The Florida Project is available on Prime Video. Sean Baker co-wrote and directed the 2017 film.