THE FLORIDA PROJECT takes an empathetic, and at times, humorous, journey into the lives of those living on the fringes. While not exactly homeless in the sense of living on the streets, Moonee (Brooklynn Pierce) and her mom (Bria Vinaite) eke out a life living in a cheap Florida motel, which is really not all that far from homelessness.
Writer/Director Sean Baker (TANGERINE) has a real skill at taking an audience into the lives of people whom we don’t generally even acknowledge in our day-to-day lives. The screenplay, co-written with Chris Bergoch, approaches these people with compassion and brings an audience into their world instead of allowing one to sit on the outskirts and pass judgement. It’s a powerful, gritty film told mostly from the perspective of the precocious six-year old who becomes increasingly aware of what is really going on. The young Brooklynn Pierce navigates this gradual understanding beautifully.
THE FLORIDA PROJECT captures the different ways children process their surroundings. More films seem to be presenting the complexity of children, but few have been as successful as this one. The film delivers an exceptional portrayal of the dichotomy of young children growing up in difficult circumstances. On the one hand, their naivety and sheer glee over the small joys in life that adults take for granted make them adorable little angels. On the other hand, their sometimes obnoxious and disrupting behavior can prove extremely irritating to anyone in the vicinity. Brooklynn Pierce as Moonee transitions effortlessly from one side to the next and feels authentic and real, reminding me of my own childhood, even though it was quite some time ago. We see her with her friends, doing things kids do – playing and exploring their world with enthusiasm and curiosity.
Of course, kids at play aren’t always sweet and innocent and can often be a thorn in the side of anyone responsible. Enter Bobby, the motel manager with a big heart. His challenge to help those in need while still keeping the place afloat seems to divide him, proving a great role for a talented actor to really explore this division. The talented actor perfect to take this character to the next level is none other than Willem DaFoe, who wonderfully encapsulates the struggle. The role is beautifully written and everything about DaFoe’s performance carries such authenticity, it is one of my favorites of his.
In theaters now, THE FLORIDA PROJECT proves both heartwarming and disheartening, incredibly full of joy, but laced with tragedy. I’m truly looking forward to what these talented filmmakers do next.