You had to wonder how director Sean Baker would follow up his shot-on-an-iPhone, transgender-prostitute comedy Tangerine if he ever got a hold of enough cash to pay for a star and a Steadicam. His extraordinary, almost-homeless-family dramedy, The Florida Project, provides the exhilarating answer.
It's set in a pastel Orlando that feels spiritually far removed from all things Disney — call it a "less magical kingdom." This sun-baked, off-ramp wasteland boasts brightly colored motels with knock-off mouse house names like Futureland Inn and Magic Castle. Built decades ago for budget-minded tourists, they're now filled with itinerant families who pay $35 a night to live in purple-stuccoed splendor.
These surroundings may be dreary for the adults who live there, but for 6-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her buddies Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto), they're just the place to run wild — really, wild — without the benefit of Mickey, Goofy and other theme park mascots. Who needs organized attractions when you have sunshine, pals and all the time in the world?
Moonee is their little gang's irrepressible ringleader — champion windshield spitter, ice cream grifter extraordinaire, leader of expeditions to bring dead fish back to life in the motel pool. She's adorably unstoppable.