Sean Baker’s magical, magnificent and madcap follow-up to Tangerine, set against the backdrop of America’s failed economy. Six-year-old Moonee (the astonishingly good Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) lives with her mother and other castaways from the American dream in a candy-floss-coloured roadside motel in Orlando. Disney World is just up the road, but their budget dayglow home is no plush hotel resort. Halley, Moonee’s mother, is only just an adult herself. More of an incorrigible older sister than a parent, she gets a kick out of juvenile hijinks, with utter disregard for their consequences. Meanwhile, nothing stops her daughter’s irrepressible sense of adventure; always unsupervised, Moonee roams the grounds with her gang, hustling change for ice creams, hosting spitting contests and teasing tolerant motel manager Bobby (a sublime, Oscar-nominated Willem Dafoe) to distraction.
The genius of Baker’s film is how it runs along two parallel tracks. Narrated from a child’s-eye view, this is a marvellous world of play and possibility. But adult viewers witnessing Halley’s life will suspect what’s coming for Moonee. That this dazzling, precocious girl is a lightning rod of wayward charm makes the inevitable so much harder to bear. The Florida Project is an ingenious, instant classic about childhood innocence.