The outskirts of the Magic Kingdom, in its shadow, a different side to the tourism hotbed of Orlando. Cheap motels and abandoned condos, strip malls and roadside eateries litter the area and are inhabited by the regions more impoverished residents. Cheap motel rooms are more appealing to those struggling to make ends meet. It’s the summer, the kids run about, cause trouble, go on adventures and misadventure. Everyone was a kid once, and everyone got up to their fair share of mischief, but when you’re below the breadline and struggle to even feed your kids, your ways and habits are passed down without you even realising. Bad attitude, grifting and no respect for authority are a daily way of life for Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), and for the most part it’s endearing. But as the film carries on, you realise it’s not just a kid showing off to her friends, it’s the way she’s been raised and a staple of her lifestyle. Her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite), struggles to make ends meet. She is having a hard time trying to get a job, and has to come up with some less than responsible methods to earn enough for food and rent, selling knock off goods to tourists and country club members. This way of life is occasionally rewarding but is also degrading. And when the money dries up, things get worse. As with any parent that loves their child, she always makes sure Moonee has a smile on her face and knows she is loved.
At first, it felt aimless with no clear narrative, chronicling small parts of Moonee’s summer, mostly from her perspective. After about an hour of what felt like kids running around being little bastards, it slowly dawns that this is as good as it gets for them, this is their world, and despite efforts from their parents, nothing is really going to improve. As living conditions don’t get much better, and her mother’s desperation becomes greater, things draw to an inevitable conclusion, and when they do, it’s heartbreaking.
Despite capturing the less glamorous side of town in which the world’s most famous theme park resides, the photography in this film is gorgeous, and although it is a contemporary film, it has a timeless look to it, a warm, grainy glow. The performances are incredible, particularly from the young Brooklynn Prince, who makes it look effortless. Willem DaFoe has a great supporting role as the motel’s manager Bobby, who clearly has a soft spot for Moonee and her mother, and you can see he’d like to help them out too, but obviously doesn’t want to over step any boundaries. But then who wouldn’t be charmed by such a bundle of energy and sass? You’ll fall head over heels.