THE FLORIDA PROJECT directed by Sean Baker is a film that left me with a sadness I could not shake all evening. Still thinking about a movie which gives us the best performance by Willem Dafoe I have seen in years, finally shedding the horror edge he often exhibits to display a complex humane being. The action takes place in Orlando Florida's honky-tonk atmosphere of cheap motels and stores surrounding the "magical" Disneyland dream destination.
I guiltily found myself feeling terribly judgemental towards the single-almost-children-themselves moms in the throes of "hard" living; their hand to mouth struggles to exist, and the laissez-faire attitude towards taking care of their offspring. Yet, I admired a certain freedom that comes from a who-gives-a-damn- about- me - attitude when you know you are fighting a losing battle and anything is possible - where time is compressed into the moment.
The children were not sentimentally cute but cunningly so. Kids who are growing up running wild; a total lack of respect for others a mini-version of their parents but with their innate empathy still unbroken. The insights of Moonee ( a terrific Brooklynn Prince) are penetrating, her intelligence spurs the pack of friends onto new adventures whether it is scamming a tourist for the ice cream cone which the group takes turns licking with the innocent sensuality of children; or sitting on a curved, bent tree with her best friend, telling her why it is her favorite tree - appreciating its visual history.
Here is an enchantment that is not produced commercially by the Disney Corporation; Moonee's childhood delight is raw and grating full of laughter and at times perilous mischief-on-thin-ice.