FROM the director of micro-budget indie gem Tangerine comes this unforgettable drama that shines a bracingly authentic yet vibrant light on the lives of one young mother and her precocious daughter living in modern day poverty.

The sound of Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” playing over the image of a bright pink wall adorned by stylistic credits gives a statement of colourful intention to the story of Moonee (extraordinary newcomer Brooklynn Prince) and her experience of a unpredictable world.

She’s a mischievous six-year-old who runs rampant with her ragtag group of friends through the bustling, shabby Magic Castle motel that she and her mother Halley (Bria Vianite) call home and which helpful but increasingly exasperated manager Bobby (a captivating Willem Dafoe) has to maintain.

This is not a film with a grand plot but rather one that finds beauty, poetry and grandeur in the grit and grime of the everyday, an uplifting celebration of free spiritedness and childhood friendship that also never shies away from showing the harsh realities of the characters’ living situation.

Director Sean Baker has a way of making us sit back in wonder at Moonee and her friends, taking the camera down to their level to show life from their point of view without it ever feeling like he’s patronising them.

Owing much to the winning performances from its youngest cast members, it’s a joy to behold their carefree playfulness as they run around a world full of troubles they remain blissfully unaware of.

Given some of the harrowing situations that arise, it’s probably for the best that these youngsters are incapable of grasping the true meaning of the events that surround them.

This is the kind of story that isn’t told nearly often enough, giving a voice to the perpetually voiceless, avoiding condescension and finger-pointing in favour of painting a deeply empathetic portrait of the marginalised, disenfranchised and disillusioned community living on the fringe of society by eking out an existence that is day-to-day and hand-to-mouth.

It’s told with an almost skin-clawing sense of authenticity, from the selection of the actors (the heavily tattooed Vianite was reportedly discovered by Baker when he was online searching for character inspiration) to the vérité style camerawork that so effectively captures these lives.

We get to drink in the whole journey, feeling the whole gamut of emotions along the way. If only all films were as compassionate as this.