Writer/Director Sean Baker has created a unique and fascinating film. Although fictional, it almost feels like a documentary due to its attention to detail. For most of the movie, there doesn’t seem to be much of a plot – rather, a series of interesting vignettes and observations – but they all eventually lead to an emotionally-charged conclusion!
Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), a girl about six years old, and her single mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), live at the Magic Kingdom Motel. Although adjacent to Disney World, this two-star (at best) motel is really at the other end of the universe from it. Staying at the motel are tourists who can’t afford to stay at a better place, but the majority are people struggling to avoid homelessness, such as single mothers with minimum-wage jobs. Halley is unemployed and sometimes is late making the weekly rent, which is about $250/week. She doesn’t have sufficient coping skills to be able to function in society. She’s a hangnail away from sinking into the abyss – which, unfortunately, will take Moonee along with her. The motel’s manager, Bobby (William Dafoe), does his best to straddle the fine line between making sure the whole place doesn’t descend into total chaos and being compassionate and protective of these children and their mothers.
In order to make money, Halley tries various schemes, such as buying perfume wholesale and then selling it to patrons staying at the expensive hotels. Moonee isn’t going to school and spends her days with a couple of friends in similar circumstances, making an adventure out of each day thanks to her creative imagination. She has all kinds of interesting ideas, such as putting a dead fish in the motel swimming pool to try to resurrect it.
Moonee and Halley are extremely close. Halley has a borderline personality disorder with anger management issues, but she never “loses it” at Moonee. Halley loves Moonee, who is the center of her world. Their relationship is a fascinating one, although much different than the mother/daughter relationship in “Lady Bird.”
The acting by both Prince and Vinaite is great. Prince should be nominated for an AA, and it’s a close race between McDormand, Ronan, and Prince for the best female lead actor. The film will work fine as a rental, but it’s good enough to see now on the BS. The movie’s only significant flaw is that it’s about 20 minutes too long (a generic complaint of mine).
I don’t plan on staying at the Magic Kingdom Motel anytime soon, but I recommend “The Florida Project” without any “reservations!”