The Magic Castle Motel is located in a technicolour world on the fringes of Orlando, Florida. Sean Baker’s film The Florida Project follows his previous film Tangerine, which examined Los Angeles subculture and was shot entirely on an iPhone 5s. The Florida Project follows the lives of 22-year-old, Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her 6-year-old daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince). The Magic Castle Motel is walking distance from “The Happiest Place on Earth” aka Disney World, however, the lives of the residents, tourists and people who are just passing through the motel are severely different. The Florida Project is an age-old story about a struggling single mother whose financial needs are prioritised over her morals. However, the film’s small details and the idiosyncrasies of the characters reinvigorate the familiar storyline. Halley and Moonee live behind the mauve door, numbered 323. Halley is affectionate towards Moonee, however, it is not a maternal kind of love, it could be compared closely with the relationship of a sister or even a best friend.
Moonee and her best friend Scooty (Christopher Rivera) love adventuring in the summertime. They cause trouble among nearby motels, and lethargic retail stores with animated façades (that attempt to catch the attention of tourists) as well as derelict houses and nature reserves. Baker conveys the joys of childhood and the hardships of poverty within the story of Moonee and Halley. However, Baker does not communicate any form of judgement through the script and cinematography. A truly important directorial skill, as the culture that thrives on Orlando’s fringe can often be misunderstood and misrepresented. The negative and/or realistic characters and incidents that are evident in their context are not omitted, therefore delivering an honest and thought-provoking insight into Orlando’s subculture. The cinematography is highly saturated and the colours are sticky and bright, this scenery creates a captivating background for the events in the film. The film beautifully represents the synthetic and soulless economy that thrives off the popularity of Disney World.
The film focuses on the day-to-day life of Moonee, a charming yet cheeky six year old, who gets away with mischief due to her perceived innocence. However, Moonee has adapted to her colourful environment and is often wiser than the adults around her. On her adventures, she meets Jancey (Valeria Cotto) a sweet, innocent, shy yet amiable girl, and their friendship prevails even though meeting under negative circumstances. The exciting and sometimes dangerous adventures of Moonee, Scooty and Jancey convey the universal idea of childhood liberty and independence, presented in an adult’s world, an uncommon setting that creates a visible contrast between adulthood and preadolescence. The source of fun for the three kids does not need to be elaborate or exciting or controlled by the technology that is ever so common in the childhoods of the 21st century. Baker creates an irresistible concoction that combines the innocence of childhood with the hardships of adulthood. The joys of youth are not romanticised and the locations that the children adventure to are often repeated, yet, they find a refreshed amusement on each visit and so does the audience.
Halley also causes mischief and lives to have fun, qualities that are evident in Moonee’s character. These personality traits do not have positive outcomes for Halley in adulthood as they do in childhood for Moonee. As the film progresses and as time goes on, Halley is unable to attain a steady job, her economic difficulty has major ramifications on her life and impacts on personal and impersonal relationships with the people in her environment, and ultimately leads to her inability to lead a normal functioning life.
The motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) is a paternal figure, to Halley and Moonee and must deal with the unpredictable, reluctant and sometimes dangerous temperaments of the other characters who live in the motel. Bobby acts as the saviour and guardian to Halley, Moonee and the other residents of the Magic Castle Motel during the film’s dangerous and vulnerable episodes; he acts as a constant support. Bobby’s disposition is sculpted by reliable and faithful mannerisms that are true to character; one of Dafoe’s most engaging and unexpectedly brilliant roles.
The Florida Project is a delightful and prismatic film that presents the lives of children and adults in a society uncommonly explored. Halley and Mooney travel through life disregarding the confines of social responsibility as well as searching for fun; they emerge as a strong, fearless and resilient characters along the way.
Written by Amy (16) edited by Jessica Ellicot (as part of the Film in Revolt writing mentorship program)