Year after year, I've been forced to watch extraordinary performances pass through awards season without so much as a sideways glance from the voters. Why? Because they don't fit the standard, they would upset the system, and because they weren't Meryl Streep. In 2001, it was a six-year-old Dakota Fanning in 'I Am Sam'. In 2013, it was a voice performance by Scarlett Johansson in 'Her'. And every goddamn year, it's Andy Serkis who continues to blow my mind with each and every project he takes on. This year, it's the remarkable performance of Moonee by six-year-old Brooklynn Prince in the independent 'The Florida Project' that has left me in awe.
Moonee lives in a purple motel called The Magic Castle in the shadows of Disney World. During the summer when school is out, Moonee and her ragtag group of fellow motel residents run amok around the property and its surrounding areas causing mischief, chaos and bothering the manger/father figure-type Bobby (Willem Dafoe). Some days, Moonee accompanies her young mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) as she hustles tourists to make rent by sometimes more than questionable means.
'The Florida Project' doesn't go anywhere, it's simply a slice of life under a microscope, and it's magnificent - only, the writer/director Sean Baker ('Tangerine') doesn't seem to know this. He so desperately tries to give the story a direction that it ends abruptly with an out-of-sorts final few minutes that are not in keeping with the original film. Normally it's a film's end moments that leave the lasting impression on its audience - fortunately for Baker, what comes before those last moments are so magical that his ending is (almost) forgivable.
It's no exaggeration to say that Prince is the star of the show, her emotional depth and command of every scene is a sight to behold.
But 'The Florida Project' just needs to be about its characters, these fabulous characters. Each and every portrayal invokes such sympathy, such empathy, laughter and tears. Sean Baker truly is an actor's director. It's no exaggeration to say that Prince is the star of the show, her emotional depth and command of every scene is a sight to behold - not just anyone can out shine a co-star like a purple castle-like motel. Not only does she do it, but she can even get you to ask "There was a purple castle hotel in that movie?"
In a word, 'The Florida Project' is authentic. No one is looked down on or victimised, it's simply a snapshot of real lives and we're granted the honour of witnessing such unsung beauty and vitality. Willem Dafoe has and will continue to collect accolades this awards season, but I hope he recognises the young people who got him there.