The Florida Project, director Sean Baker’s follow-up to Tangerine, takes place just on the outskirts of the most magical place on earth, but is far from a whimsical dream. Baker’s profound and moving film turns a light on a side of Florida that few are willing to see. Focusing on the day-to-day life of 22-year-old Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her six-year-old daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), the film is a captivating look at the new homeless population that exists in America.
Struggling to find funds from week-to-week, Halley and Moonee live out of a cheap motel near one of the most iconic theme parks in the world. For Moonee, much of her days are spent playing with other kids her age from her motel and the ones just across the street. Spiting on cars, harassing locals for ice cream money and exploring the rows of foreclosed houses, Moonee’s lives a carefree life that, much to the chagrin of motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe), is free of discipline.
It also does not help matters that Halley, who cannot keep a job, further encourages her daughter’s rambunctious ways. While not likely to be considered for any mother of the year awards, Halley is committed to doing whatever is necessary to keep a roof over their heads. Even if that means swindling tourists and resorting to activities that would not sit well with child services.
In highlighting a section of the population that is one step away from sleeping on the streets, Baker crafts a beautiful and devastating look at a community just trying to survive each day. By depicting the events through Moonee’s innocent eyes, Baker expertly hits home how dire their situation is. While Halley and Moonee cheer on a vicious fight occurring on the motel grounds, as if it is the only piece of entertainment the residents will see for weeks, the audience cannot help but wonder if the pair will be able to break this desperate cycle their lives are stuck in.
Baker wisely does not provide any easy answers, nor should the viewer expect him to. The sadness and compassion that is written on Bobby’s face, Dafoe gives an exquisite turn in the role, speaks volumes to the complexities of the situations he is observing. Anchored by phenomenal performances by Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite and the rest of the cast, The Florida Project is another exemplary work by Sean Baker that ranks amongst the year’s best films.