Sean Baker’s Florida Project is set in the dark shadow of Disneyland, where families barely make rent in the run-down garish pink purple and orange motels with names like Futureland, Magic Castle and Orange World, evoking the fantasy of Disney’s unrealised utopian dream.
The story is sensitively drawn from the very real lives of those barely surviving the every day. It's summer break and Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her gang of eight to ten year olds, her sidekick Scooty and new friend Jancey send spit balls over people and cars, running riot. Moonee echoes her mother’s language, “Just try it bitch”, while Halley tells Jancey’s outraged mother to lighten up and get laid. Though Halley’s a tough character to love, (Bria Vinaite in a great performance) she mothers like it’s her own chance at childhood, ratcheting up Moonee’s hysteria. Living on the edge she dances for tips, tricks tourists with stolen Disney tickets and perfume with Moonee’s help. “The doctor says we have asthma”, Moonee learns to scam tourists for ice cream, but for all her gumption she is attuned to those around her for survival: “I always know when someone’s about to cry”.
Filmed in acid-colour wide-angle shots, with an uplifting soundtrack, it captures the heightened hysteria of a child’s view, ramped up on sugar and junk food, and has you on the edge of your seat as you watch unsupervised and neglected kids in a dangerous world. Living hand-to-mouth on junk food and waffles that Halley’s friend steals from work, things get desperate when Scooty and the gang set fire to an abandoned building.
Bobby is the janitor (a star turn by Willem Dafoe) who looks out for the kids, saving them from lurking paedophiles and danger, and tries to keep them out of trouble. Though he does his best, he can’t stop Halley’s rage and volatility as she turns on her friend, forced to turn tricks as things begin to spiral.
The 'good enough' mother takes on a different meaning in a world away from soft play, summer camps and parenting workshops. Though Halley is devoted to Moonee and love is never in short supply, it’s a challenge to be a mother when you’ve not had that experience, trying to set boundaries when you’ve had none. When you are barely making a temporary roof over you and your daughter’s head, there is little chance to stop the oncoming train.