Innocence is a funny thing, we aren't really aware we ever had it until we've already lost it. I think that's the reason we gravitate to stories told through the eyes of children. Their innocence can be a refreshing escape from our own cynicism.
'The Florida Project' is one of these lenses. In his first feature film since 2015's 'Tangerine,' Director Sean Baker transports his audience into the daily life of an impoverished community on the outskirts of Disney World. Baker's story is told through the adventures of precocious six year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her friends around the low-rent motel in which they all live. Watching the film, you can't help but be drawn in by Moonee's enthusiasm for each day despite her harsh surroundings.
There is a turning point though, where the weight of the world around her starts to break through the facade of childlike innocence. From there the story becomes almost haunting. Motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) tries his best to protect the junior residents from the realities of their parents' lives. Moonee's mom Halley (Bria Vinaite), increasingly desperate to provide for her daughter, turns to more and more risky means of protecting her family. This journey takes us from a beautiful examination of childhood and perseverance to a darker but equally brilliant look at poverty in the United States.
All pulled together, we are left with one of the best movies of the year. Of everything I've seen this year, 'The Florida Project' is the film that has truly stuck with me. So much worked well in the 'Florida Project' and it is a tragedy that Baker and his creation didn't get more love during awards season. Prince's Moonee was one of the better performances by a lead actress all year, pacing a number of standout showings by her supporting cast. Willem Dafoe, nominated for an Oscar in his role as Bobby, showed he can shed the villain tag and deliver a truly heartfelt performance. His character so often was the audience proxy and he embodied it phenomenally.
Baker deserves a lot of praise too. Drawing that kind of emotional and poignant acting out of his child actors couldn't have been easy. Credit also to his writing and directing that drove 'The Florida Project' so deliberately from start to finish. He managed to create this beautiful story and intertwine it with so many memorable Scenes (the bathtub scenes are especially heartbreaking.) Outside of 'Lady Bird' I'm not sure there was another film as engaging as this one.
Of course it wasn't perfect. I have only one gripe with 'The Florida Project,' and that's the acting by the adult leads. Bria Vinaite's Halley is inconsistent, at times very real and at others overacted. This criticism holds true for the whole adult cast with the exception of Willem Dafoe's Bobby. In the end it doesn't really matter, the movie isn't about the adults. It's the kids that are front and center and it's the kids that truly shine, the adults are often there as plot devices.
So should you see 'The Florida Project?' Absolutely! Right now I have the film 3rd on my favorites of 2017, when I first saw it I had it closer to 7 or 8. This is the type of movie with layers, the more you peel back the better it gets. Truly, I cannot recommend this movie enough.