Prince & co.
If you know anything about The Florida Project, it involves 7-year-old Brooklynn Prince, who gives the year’s breakout performance. As Moonee, a 6-year-old wreaking summer havoc on the Orlando motel in which she lives with her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), Prince precociously commands the screen both comically and dramatically.
Tangerine writer-director Sean Baker empathetically tackles the gritty reality of modern American poverty in the shadow of the Magic Kingdom. Moonee may be oblivious to unemployed Halley’s struggles to make the weekly “rent” by selling wholesale perfume or prostitution, but its effects show as Moonee and the other little rascals living at the Magic Castle Motel wander unsupervised down the busy Orlando strip, with only the watchful eye of motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) standing between them and everything from topless sunbathers to potential pedophiles. While Prince is the film’s superstar, Dafoe is its heart. His Schneider-like super never seems to regret his charges.
Much like the subjects it portrays, The Florida Project lacks pretensions, which can be uncharacteristic of acclaimed independent cinema. This sad domestic story taps into the same neorealist vein as Larry Clark’s Kids. (It’s not hard to imagine Moonee and friends winding up on the streets like Telly, Casper and Jennie.) Fortunately, The Florida Project leaves you feeling more hopeful, even if it is potentially temporary and false, than soiled.