Set over one summer, the film follows precocious 6-year-old Moonee as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, all while living in the shadows of Disney World.
In Northern Italy in 1983, seventeen year-old Elio begins a relationship with visiting Oliver, his father's research assistant, with whom he bonds over his emerging sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and the beguiling Italian landscape.
Thirty years after they served together in Vietnam, a former Navy Corpsman Larry "Doc" Shepherd re-unites with his old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon and Reverend Richard Mueller, to bury his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War.
Double crosses, adultery, murder, mistaken identity, and revenge ensue when a mysterious power player and his sultry wife hire a disgraced Los Angeles property broker to discreetly market and sell their Malibu villa.
Halley lives with her six year old daughter Moonee in a budget motel along one of the commercial strips catering to the Disney World tourist clientele outside Orlando, Florida. Halley, who survives largely on welfare, has little respect for people, especially those who cross her, it an attitude that she has passed down to Moonee, who curses and gives the finger like her mother. Although the motel's policy is not to allow long term rentals, Bobby, the motel manager, has made arrangements for people like Halley to live there while not undermining the policy as he realizes that many such tenants have no place to go otherwise. Halley, Moonee and Moonee's friends, who live in the motel or others like it along the strip and who she often drags into her disruptive pranks, are often the bane of Bobby's existence, but while dealing with whatever problem arises, Bobby has a soft spot especially for the children and thus, by association, their parents, as he knows that Moonee and others like her... Written by
Greetings again from the darkness. "The Happiest Place on Earth" has
long been a Disney catchphrase. The irony for those living on the road
to Disney World is the focus of the latest from ground-breaking
filmmaker Sean Baker. Mr. Baker was the creative force behind the
remarkable TANGERINE (shot entirely with iphones) a couple of years
ago, and his most recent film solidifies his brilliance at bringing us
the fringes of society those we don't typically see on screen. Beyond
that, these are the folks many of us pay little attention to in real
The Magic Castle Motel is a lavender monstrosity that belies the daily
struggles of those who live behind its purple doors. It's actually a
seedy extended-stay that caters to ultra-budget guests. Included among
those are 6 year old Moonee (Brooklyn Kimberly Prince) and her friend
Scooty (Christopher Rivera). As we watch them spit on a car below their
perch on the motel balcony, we quickly judge these as kids with a bit
too much free time and a shortage of parental guidance.
As the summer days roll on, we tag along as Moonee leads Scooty and
their new friend Jancey (Valeria Cotto) in some boundary-pushing
adventures. Their fun ranges from typical kid mischief to accidents
with more serious ramifications. The brilliance here is that through
the child's eye, we see joy and excitement and fun. We hear the purity
of giggles and giddy screeches as the kids bound between tourist traps,
ice cream parlors, and rooms forbidden as off-limits. All of this
miscreant activity occurs amidst the adults who trudge on simply trying
to survive another day.
While we might be tempted to recall Cat Stevens' lyrics, "while the
sinners sin, the children play", it's director Baker that refuses to
pass judgment. Moonee's mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) was recently fired
from her "dancing" job, and is now constantly on the prowl to make
enough money to cover the weekly motel bill. She clearly loves her
daughter, but is too proud and angry, and just has no idea of how to
pull out of this vicious cycle of poverty. The artificial dreams that
are prevalent in so many films have no place at the Magic Castle Motel.
It's about the next meal and keeping a roof above.
Don't go searching for plot here. Instead, at times it feels like a
documentary on Moonee or the spirited need for fun and laughter that is
in the DNA of kids. We are just following a real kid around, and that's
a tribute to the marvel that is Brooklyn Kimberly Prince. She steals
every scene and most of the movie and that's in spite of the terrific
performances from Ms. Vinaite and screen vet Willem Dafoe. It's a rare
"normal" role for Mr. Dafoe, and he makes the most of it as Bobby, the
motel's manager. He is also a father figure, mediator of disputes, bill
collector, and protector of damaged souls. With no hint of saccharine
or Hollywood mush, Bobby is unable to detach emotionally from those who
live at the hotel, not because he is soft, but rather because he is
human. We see his demeanor change drastically when the owner of the
hotel arrives for inspection. Bobby understands the fragility of his
own situation due to what he witnesses each day.
Director Baker is a master of color use and the blending of abrupt
framed images with the handhelds in close proximity within motel rooms
and personal interactions. His story (co-written with his TANGERINE and
STARLET collaborator Chris Bergoch) never feels condescending, preachy
or romanticized. There is no blatant political statement being made.
These are folks living their lives as best they are able within the
confines of their situation. The police and Child Protective Services
are always hovering as a reminder that the next mistake could
significantly alter lives. Somehow, the film is both hilarious and
heart-breaking. The obvious comparison is to last year's MOONLIGHT, and
it could even be viewed as a prequel to American HONEY. Mostly it's a
slice of rarely seen life and further proof that Sean Baker is already
an important filmmaker, and one that likely has more to say. As for the
debate around the final scene, does it really matter? There is no
better place for a child to escape reality even if it might only be
in their mind. Sometimes that's the only escape we get.
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