In the shadow of the greatest fantasy land this earth has ever seen, is set the unvarnished reality of the life of a precious and precocious little angel aptly christened ‘Moonee’ (even filth looks good in moonlight right?). The seedy weekly rate motels, the abandoned condominiums, the timeshare resorts on the outer fringes of the Disney parks act as the dystopian frame for this brutally honest drama. Everything that is wrong with the American dream is succinctly observed through Moonee’s pristine lenses (which are free of distortion, chromatic aberration, fringing and vignetting).
Seven year old Brooklynn Prince delivers a performance well beyond her years with her exquisitely charming yet incredibly haunting portrayal of a child born into and growing up inside the maelstrom of poverty, vulnerability and hopelessness and yet one who doggedly retains all the characteristics of a child her age. That hint of a paunch, the curly frills, the perfectly round moonlike face, those intense eyes with a twinkle of mischief and that lovely smile. She truly is the lotus in a swamp.
The pathos latent in every scene is unmissable despite the veneering of humor and adventure applied at various stages of the narrative by the man at the helm, Sean Baker. Baker is able to amplify and magnify certain emotions by wrapping them in a parchment of different and often times antithetical emotion! Sheer genius IMHO.
The unimpeachable Willem Dafoe who plays the role of the property manager/janitor/handyman/rent collector/enforcer has presided over yet another acting clinic. The thing that leaves me in utter bewilderment is the fact that every time I see Dafoe on screen I feel like I’m seeing him for the very first time. If ever there was such a thing as a quintessential Floridian, he has nailed that enactment to a T. He encapsulates the attributes of the metaphorical mangrove branch that is the sole avenue of rescue available to one sinking in a marsh of despair.
Last but not least, I give to you Bria Vinaite. White trash, single teen mom, substance abuser, hustler and survivor. It is impossible to believe that this is her debut on celluloid! She is fresh, she is fearless and yes, yes, yes….she is fascinating. Enough said. You watch and decide.
Baker has accomplished everything he set out to.
I despaired, I really did while and after having watched this movie. It forces us the viewers to resolve to do our bit to ensure that society and circumstances should never again conspire to let another ‘Moonee’ (future generations) grow up on the slow poison of a staple diet comprising of cardboard pizza and sugary syrup or let her innocence be violated by the experience of the trauma of a naked stranger walk into her bathroom or have her endure the pain of being separated from her sole ally, her mother in a world where all the odds are stacked against her. A mother who fights those unbeatable odds that confront her every single day and who is only trying her best to provide for her angel with the Hobson’s choices that lay in front of her.
Even in Florida you cannot make lemonade out of oranges!