Review: In ‘The Florida Project,’ Enchantment in a Shabby Motel

Moonee is six. She lives in the shadow of Disney World, in a stretch of central Florida dominated by cheap thrills and off-brand amusements. Home is a room in a motel called the Magic Castle, one of many garishly painted stucco-clad palaces whose names represent either false advertising, honest aspiration or brutal irony. This is an unmagical kingdom, a zone of tawdriness and transience, of strip clubs and strip malls, knockoff souvenir shops and soft-serve ice cream shacks.

But for Moonee (who is played by an uncannily poised and resourceful young actress named Brooklynn Prince), the Magic Castle and its surroundings are a land of endless enchantment and nonstop adventure. Mischievous and fearless — heroically bratty; devilishly cute — Moonee may remind you of Eloise, who tries the patience of the grown-ups at the Plaza Hotel in that immortal picture book. Their situations are different, of course. Moonee’s mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), is not jetting around Europe leaving her daughter in the care of a stressed-out nanny. She’s very much a presence in Moonee’s life, perhaps more big-sisterly than maternal, but doing whatever she can to keep them housed, clothed, fed and entertained.