The Story/The Direction:
This film takes its name from an early name for Walt Disney World Resort nearby where this film takes mostly place. The audience follows the summer of a six-year-old named Moonee (Prince) who lives in the Magic Castle motel with her mother, Halley (Vinaite). They are not well off and they struggle to pay rent which is $38 per night or about $1140 per month. Halley walks around with Monee and tries to sell wholesale perfume to random people staying at other hotels in the area. Their lives are not easy and this is their story.
Baker is able to tell this untold story of people struggling in an area that most would not think of. Moonee, Halley, and many others live in the same area as Disney World. This area is regarded as "the most magical place on earth" and is visited by millions of visitors each year. However, Orlando is not what everyone thinks it is and has a lot of similarities to New York City. While there are clear differences, both cities mark up over 55 million tourists each year for obvious reasons. But as this movie shows, all that glitters is not always gold. The motel where these people live, tourists constantly regard as dirty and unfit for them. They are the projects of Orlando but like the projects of many other cities, the people living are just as normal as the rest of the world. Baker makes the colors pop on-screen that at times feels like a Wes Anderson film. This film was a pleasure to look at but the love is in the characters.
Even though she struggles, Halley is pushing to get by. She is played by unknown Vinaite who is someone to look out for in the future as Prince. Prince plays Moonee with just amount of cuteness that is not overwhelming but good enough to see her as anyone's child. She does not want to be homeless and she does all she can. She apparently can't hold a job. She may be a child herself at times but she does some of it to keep her child innocent. Her love for her is the one aspect where she is a good mother. She truly does care for her but sometimes loses sight of that and that's when Moonee gets into trouble. Moonee does what any six-year-old wants to do. She plays with her friends and causes mischief which she is only scolded by Bobby (Dafoe), the hotel manager.
This is probably Dafoe's most heartwarming and heart-wrenching performance in his career. This is a man who has mostly played villains or odd characters but here he plays a den mother, a father figure, and a law enforcer all at the same time. He watches over Moonee when Halley struggles and seemingly cares for them and even breaks hotel policy for them. He protects Moonee and her friends from pedophiles and the nude elderly. It is implied that he has seen many grow in his hotel and is immensely sad to see Moonee go through the same cycle Halley potentially did. If he does not intervene, the cycle will repeat once again as it has done for the many years prior. Then again, he is running a business and must realize that he has no real connection to Halley or Moonee. As the film climaxes, the audience sees this conflict in his eyes and he knows what he fears may come to fruition. He is the audience as he wants to help but does not know how he can. Then in the final moments, a child figures it out.
This film is a very simple story and its characters have no real depth. Baker has stated that this is not a film with character arcs but rather a story about people. The film gives very little reason to care for these characters over the course of the film. One may want them not to suffer but that can only go so far and definitely does not last 115 minutes, at least in front of a screen. This may because Baker is a college-educated white man from New Jersey which is the exact opposite of a poor child or a poor mother living in the slums of Orlando. This film feels like Baker is showing this part of the world just to show it as if he discovered it first. He does not seem to understand these people enough to give them much to do. Halley and Mooney apparently only have two things going on in their lives, trying to get money and having fun. This could have been an interesting documentary with real-life people instead of fictional characters but as a fictional piece, it feels empty and also boring at points.
This movie is very conflicting as it has a lot of good moments that are intertwined with long parts where nothing happens. The film has characters without much development but due to human empathy, one will care for them by the end of the film. The performances are top notch led by Dafoe who may receive an Oscar nomination for this. Movies like this will speak to typical hipsters and it does bring up a good message. However, the "don't judge others as it is never known where they come from" message has been done better. This movie is worth a watch once but as a rental or video on demand.
Rating: 4.0/5.0 bowties
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