By John H. Foote
The nominees for Best Actress in a Leading role for film in 2018 were Meryl Streep in The Post, Frances McDormand in 3 Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, Margot Robbie in I, Tonya, and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water. So who gets bumped? Seriously, one of them should have been bumped so that seven-year-old Brooklynn Prince could be included, and subsequently win for her stunning performance in The Florida Project. Of the five, the least of the performances, and this kills me to say, was Meryl Streep in The Post, a very fine piece of acting but not in the gallery of Streep’s finest work.
That Prince was not nominated remains one of the greatest injustices in the Academy in the last 40 years, criminal.
Just seven years old when she portrayed the ferociously alive little girl Moonie, I walked out of that film aware, absolutely aware that I had just seen the greatest performance ever given by a child in the history of the cinema. There have been some very good ones in the past, Haley Joel Osment in both The Sixth Sense (1999) and A.I. – Artificial Intelligence (2002), Henry Thomas in E.T. – The Extraterrestrial (1982) among the top three, Prince soared passed them both with this brilliant, mercurial performance that somehow was not nominated for an Academy Award.
Not nominated? This little girl should have been holding the damned Oscar, forget being merely nominated!
As Moonie, a child living on the edge of poverty without realizing it, she is a bundle of energy and possessed with a vivid imagination. Living in a rundown motel a mile or so from Disney World in Florida, her mother turns tricks or works scams to keep them under a roof and fed, meaning Moonie basically runs free doing whatever she wants with her friends. She can be a destructive little miss, and is no stranger to trouble, or scamming for ice cream, but she fills her days and proves a very resourceful little girl at six.
Her mother does her best to shield her daughter from the cold hard facts of their poverty, but Moonie has a growing awareness that things are not quite normal in their lives. When Child Services come around looking for information it becomes clear, Moonie is being taken away to be fostered with another family. Her reaction, as expected is to erupt in fury, pushing one of the women come to take her away down a flight and stairs and fleeing to her best friend’s room at a nearby hotel. barely able to speak as the tears begin to flow, she tells her friend they will not likely see one another anymore, alarming the other little girl. Moonie’s tears flow freely, as she erupts in painful sobs. Taking two deep breaths, her friend grabs her hand and they run, straight to Disney World, because they know they can escape and all dreams come true within those gates.
Prince captures being a child on screen like no other actress ever has. Always moving, always in motion, always talking but above all always thinking is what makes her performance so real and authentic. The actress had free rein to improvise whenever she felt like it, and that freedom allowed her to use her imagination (so vivid) and create. She brought childhood to the screen in a way it has never been before, with purity and perfection throughout. Her meltdown at the end is vivid and powerful because it marks the first and only time in the film we have seen this little girl cry! So much of her everyday life should bring tears, but only at the end when her life is being ripped apart does she permit herself to cry. It is jolting to see, and you might find tears gathering in your eyes to fall with hers.
An absolute miraculous performance that deserved to be not only nominated, but the little lady should have won.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.