The Florida Project (2017)
In Sean Baker's bleak, but warm social realism The Florida Project, Willem Dafoe plays a good-natured motel manager who in fatherly fashion looks after the numerous more or less struggling residents of a low-cost motel not far from Disney World in Florida. They live mostly from hand-to-mouth, taking odd jobs and trying to earn enough to pay the rent and provide for their children, who in turn form a close bond as they roam around the premises and enjoy their summer holidays. Running after them is Baker with his camera, and he must have given these young kids plenty of leeway to play and socialize, because the authenticity he is able to capture is remarkable – and perhaps the film's best asset. After a first half which feels a little bit like a low-key, white-trash version of Grand Hotel, Baker's focus of attention settles on the abrasive, foul-mouthed petty criminal Hallee and her enterprising, impertinent 6-year-old daughter Moonee. In the latter role, young Brooklynn Prince is a real find, and Baker gets an amazing performance out of her, without it ever feeling forced, and very rarely contrived. Through his study of Halley and Moonee, Baker not only creates glimpses of brilliant, emotionally turbulent drama, but also raises all kinds of questions about social structures, economic inequality and welfare systems. Baker makes no conclusions, however, instead leaving us to take our pick and make our own evaluations. That final scene, with its complete shift in tone and tempo, is reminiscent of the ending of Richard Donner's Radio Flyer, another film with fantastic performances by talented child-performers.