November 14, 2017

The Florida Project: Welcome to Moonee’s Magic Kingdom

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The world was a much simpler place when we were six. Our imaginations ran free. Six-year-olds can find beauty and excitement anywhere, and make any setting their personal playground. It is fun to be reminded how happy the littlest things could make us when we were younger. The Florida Project gives us that opportunity by welcoming us to Moonee’s world.

Set among impoverished motels on the outskirts of Disney World, The Florida Project is a play on words from Walt Disney’s plan to develop Florida. It is painfully ironic because the motels right outside of Disney are filled with extremely poor residents. This poverty is shown through the adorable lens of Moonee (Brooklyn Prince). Moonee is a hilarious six-year-old with an eye for trouble. Moonee and her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite) live in a purple motel called “The Magic Castle.” Halley is a young, single mom with dyed blue hair, tattoos and piercings. Moonnee and Halley get along great, with Halley supporting Moonee’s mischievous actions. Moonee’s vocabulary is absurdly vulgar for a six-year-old, and the two curse, laugh and play together. When Halley struggles to find money to pay the weekly rent to landlord Bobby (Willem Dafoe), Moonee helps Halley sell perfume to wealthy Disney World visitors. Halley is no perfect mother, but it is clear that she loves Moonee and wants the best for her. It also seems like Mooney rebels and curses in public in an attempt to please her mom and be like her.

Halley lets Moonee run around with essentially no supervision for her summer vacation. Moonee’s two good friends in the movie are Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto). The three spit on cars, guilt people into buying them ice cream, accidentally burn down an entire house and more. Trouble is around every corner.

At one point, Moonee is talking about a visitor at the motel and says “But I feel bad for her, she’s about to cry. I can always tell when adults are about to cry.” This line is so simple yet so powerful. Moonee, like many six-year-olds, reminds us that children understand a lot more than we think. She senses sorrow. She may be young, but she understands the dangers of the world.

The Florida Project offers a powerful contrast to the world right outside the Disney World bubble. A young couple accidentally arrives at Moonee’s motel for their honeymoon: they thought that they were staying inside Disney’s “Magic Kingdom.” The couple hates the motel, and refuses to stay there, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Moonnee actually lives there.

Director Sean Baker decided to upgrade cameras for The Florida Project — his previous film Tangerine was shot exclusively on iPhone. All iPhones aside, The Florida Project has the same authentic feel. One of my favorite scenes was Moonee and Scooty  sitting in front of a mural of oranges at a grocery store. The image is fantastic, and makes viewers feel like Moonee and Scooty are a part of the painting. There is also a stunning fireworks scene on Jansey’s birthday.

Over and over in the film, we see Moonee taking baths. She would be in the bath for a while, and playing alone with different toys. It was not until later in the movie, that these bath scenes had any significance. Viewers eventually realized that every time Moonee took a long bath, Halley had men over. Halley’s prostitution was directly associated with Moonee’s innocent baths. Yet, we saw everything through Moonee’s eyes, so the situation remained positive. It was as if we, like Moonee, remained oblivious until it was too late.

Brooklyn Prince is completely charming as Moonee. She is hilarious, and a perfect fit for the character. Prince truly makes the movie, which would be far more slow-paced without her lovely performance.

It’s not that I was bored. Moonee’s hysterical actions and mannerisms are far from boring, however there are some scenes that did drag. Even though the ending is predictable, the closing scene will put even jaded moviegoers in a trance. Moonee’s world is so simple and funny, yet simultaneously so complicated. It is well worth a visit to this alternate “magical kingdom.”


Becky Frank is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].