‘Florida Project’ an exquisite heartbreaker
Not too far fromthe gates of the Walt Disney World Resort, where families are promised “enchanted escapes” and “fun” and “magic” and where day tickets start at a cool $99 a person, there’s a discount motel called the Magic Castle.
It’s painted in garish shades of lavender and amethyst. The ice machine is broken. The washer and dryer often are, too. It costs $38 a night. And it is home for a young mother, Halley, and her 6-year- old daughter, Moonee, in director Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project,” a transcendently beautiful, funny, heartwarming (and heartwrenching) tale of child- hood poverty.
This is Kissimmee, Florida, and it is less than 10 miles away from that fairytale promise of Disney. But it might as well be on another planet.
Not that Moonee notices. Played by the impressive newcomer Brooklynn Prince, Moonee exists in a world of her own
— a charmed childhood dreamscape of freedom and friends and devilish fun and colorful buildings shaped like oranges and soft-serve cones.
Moonee is not an angel — quite the opposite. She’s kind of a terror. She is not well-behaved or polite or deferential to adults, and she does some truly bad things. But you can’t help but fall in love with her. She is unmistakably her age, which Baker never conceals or glosses over or exploits for mawkish story tricks.
Young childhood is so hard to get right in the movies. Children in films are pawns that seldom feel true — either too poetic or perceptive or cute to be believed. But Baker and his co-writer, Chris Bergoch, do get it right with Moonee and her friends. It feels like you’re watching a documen- tary at times.
As far as Moonee is concerned, things are good at the Magic Castle. She doesn’t know that she lives on the brink of poverty, or that hermother— played by another terrific newcomer, Bria Vinaite — might not be looking out for her best interests all the time. All she knows is she can run to the back alley of a diner to get free pancakes from her friend’s mom and talk strangers into giving her money for ice cream whenever. She knows that her mom is fun and loves her and that she is safe enough to not question her own safety.
It helps that the kind and em pathetic motel manager, Bobby( Will em Dafoe ), picks up the supervisions lack and keep san eye onMoonee and her friends. He is a thankless father figure to all the borderlinehomeless tenants of the motel. And Dafoe’s warm and generous performance is simply astonishing. It’s not one you’ll soon forget (although it might make you forget some of the creeps he’s played over the years).
Coming off of the vibrant “Tangerine” (a tale of transgender prostitutes in Hollywood), Baker has outdone himself with “The Florida Project,” which will have your emotions running the gamut and you running back to the ticket counter for one more viewing.
It also might make you think about those who live near the poverty line, the children they have and the lives they lead and the consequences and ever-present fear of onemissed payment. Being poor is neither as dour nor romantic as the movies generally might have you believe.
Thank goodness, then, for “The Florida Project,” a candy- colored fairy tale on the wrong side of the tracks that knows that even though the Disney fences are high and the prices steep, the end- of-night fireworks show is for anyone who takes amoment to look up at the sky.
Willem Dafoe, left, plays a motel manager and Brooklynn Prince is a 6-year-old tenant in “The Florida Project.”
Christopher Rivera, left, and Brooklynn Prince play friends in “The Florida Project.”