Director Sean Baker wowed critics and audiences in 2015 with his iPhone shot film titled Tangerine about a transgender prostitute who goes after his cheating boyfriend after being released from jail. Now, he’s decided to set a 35mm film camera (with an iPhone camera handy for a scene near the end) towards Kissimmee, Florida— an area of cheap motels located a couple of kilometres away from Walt Disney World.
The Florida Project centres on a mischievous but adventurous 8-year-old girl named Mooney (Brooklynn Prince) and her childhood in The Magic Castle motel with her friends and her young mum Halley, played by Bria Vinaite.
Willem Dafoe plays Bobby, the manager of The Magic Castle who’s also a big part of Mooney’s life. Dafoe gives an amazing performance as this caring but strict father figure who’s also trying to do his job. Oblivious to her mum’s shady work life and the various things she does to keep a roof over their heads, Prince gives a joyful and adventurous charm to her character. She sees an amazing world in her surroundings, even if other families that have higher expectations for their magical holiday don’t. And Vinaite— an actress who was chosen for the part of Halley by Baker through Instagram— does a great job in this film. There are times where both of these characters can be unlikeable. But at the end, I was on Halley’s side of the argument and understanding in her position. Furthermore, Prince and Vinaitie’s chemistry is incredibly believable.
There were, however, some scenes in the film that weren’t entirely necessary, and the film could have been shorter. Regardless, this is a film that, similar to Tangerine, looks at a part of the world behind the glitz and glamour and explores the ups and downs of childhood. I still liked it because of its main story, and especially its emotional and meaningful conclusion.