Chris Kavan - wrote on 02/18/18
Sean Baker presents a bright, bubbly version of Florida as seen through the eyes of children, but beneath this candy-coated surface a dark reality hides as the adults, some of whom seem more childish than the kids around them, struggle to maintain a life and family.
Our main character is six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), who is staying at the ironically-named Magic Kingdom motel with her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite). She hangs out with Scooty and Dicky (Christopher Rivera and Aiden Malik) and get in to no end of trouble. After spitting on a car, they are punished by building super Bobby (Willem Dafoe) but instead of a learning a valuable lesson, they go on more series of misadventures, befriending Jancey (Valeria Cotto) and score free meals from Halley's friend and Scooty's mom, Ashley (Mela Murder) as well as scam free ice cream from tourists, hassle Bobby to no end and generally get up to no good.
But despite their foul mouths and general nature, these are still just kids trying to have fun in the circumstances they are provided. Sure, sometimes things get out of hand - but without responsible parents, what else can you do? Baker's Florida is a contrast of scraping by, Halley gets her money from scamming tourists herself - and later by even less legal means, but also trying to make the best. Despite her own foul mouth and general nature, Halley does care for her daughter and despite his gruff exterior Bobby cares for the kids and his tenants, doing the best he can to keep things running.
Dafoe has been rightfully singled out for giving one of the best performances of his career. While he is often cast as the villain, here he is a harried super, and though he has limited funds and help, does everything he can to keep The Magic Kingdom in decent shape. Sure, he might not be the best at weeding out bed bugs, but he sure doesn't hold back from keeping creepy old guys away from the children.
Throughout The Florida Project, the darker moments are kept in the background. We know full well what is going on, but through Moonee's eyes, we also feel like keeping that precocious childlike nature alive is possible. It all builds up to an emotional ending - one that hits hard but still leaves you with that glimmer of hope.
While is can be difficult at times to sympathize with the characters and their decisions, Baker at least gives you reason to care about them. He has a true eye for setting the scene and getting the look down and I have a feeling he's just getting started.