Walt Disney World: The happiest place on earth – or so we thought.
The Florida Project is set in Orlando, Florida, a city known for housing one of the most well known theme parks in the world. The film follows Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her friends as they experience the reality of a life lived in the shadow of Walt Disney World.
Moonee’s days are filled with friends, mischief, and the heat of the summer. Due to a history of arrests, Moonee’s mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) struggles to find a steady income to support herself and her daughter. Together, the girls live in a purple motel managed by Bobby (Willem Dafoe), a hardened man with a soft interior whom, on occasion, allows his care and kindness to shine through.
Having spent a stint at Walt Disney World myself, watching The Florida Project brought to light a whole new perspective of the city that I once called home. An incredibly humbling film, it reiterates the truth that beyond the glamour and the glitz and the practically palpable idea of ‘happiness’ encapsulating Orlando, real people exist, with the same real life struggles that are present in every other city in the world.
Director Sean Baker approaches this dark reality of life with a light step, an air of humour and an underlying sense of incredible sorrow. The characters in the film do not want our pity nor do they ask for it, and the actors depict such ignorant pride well. Baker encourages us to re-evaluate our own perceptions and assumed beliefs, as he creates a space where we have the opportunity to witness a pure life experience.
The entire aesthetic of the movie beholds a muted beauty that further reflects Moonee’s life and emphasises her existence within the shadow of Walt Disney World. The Florida Project is an excellently written, directed and produced film and is unlike any that I have yet come across. Perhaps because I find the setting so relatable, or perhaps because it simply reveals a truth that many of us are so ready to ignore – there is a murky depth that exists within the shadow of ‘happiness’.
In a 2017 BBC radio interview, the director clarified that the film’s garish motel settings are genuine motels. They continued operating as working businesses during filming, and some real-life residents and staff are seen in the film.