Sean Baker made his name directing ‘Tangerine’ , an indie feature he shot entirely on an iPhone camera. ‘Tangerine’ told the story of an LA transgender prostitute and was frankly a marvel considering the low (non-existent) technology budget, teetering on visual masterpiece. His latest venture ‘The Florida Project’, shot in 35mm, is crisp, clear and colourful, but still clings onto that absorption with the beauty of the everyday in this lovingly told Oscar-nominated drama.
Six year old Moonie (Brooklyn Kimberly Prince) lives in Magic Castle with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) – a scrappy, contentious young woman with a silver piercing perched on her bottom lip, faded sky blue hair and rose tattoos bursting from her chest. She employs her daughter to sell discounted perfumes to the rich members of a nearby golf club, and when she is no longer able to, turns to sex work to provide for Moonie and make rent.
Her daughter Moonie is a cheeky, tear-away kid who, together with her best friends Scooty and Janey, play havoc in the complex, building their fantasy worlds to escape their impoverished surroundings. The motel is run by the manager Bobby (William Dafoe) who is run-ragged by Moonie and her mother, weary but always there when they need him.
Dafoe has surprisingly little screen time but gives a subtle and honest portrayal, slipping seamlessly in and out of the narrative. Brooklyn Kimberly Prince is a real talent, childishly expressive without being too ‘cutesy.’ Baker shoots from a child’s-eye view so you experience all the very adult and miserable events through the vibrant, kaleidoscope lense of Moonie and her friends. Bria Vinaite is gritty and raw as the mother desperately trying to provide for her daughter by any means necessary and refreshingly never feels like too much of a caricature.
The movie is beautifully coloured in bold, rainbow hues like a child’s colouring book, the motels and abandoned buildings in striking Disney-esque yellows and purples. The stark contrast between the lavish fantasy of the theme park and the scale of the poverty endured by those who live there is authentically portrayed and sometimes hard to watch.
When Disneyworld was in the early stages of development, the expansion, then named ‘The Florida Project’, forced many families out of their homes into poor housing or temporary accommodation. Baker’s movie encapsulates the experience of this marginalised community with candour and empathy. Masterfully told and utterly absorbing, ‘The Florida Project’ deserves every accolade it gets.