The Florida Project

The Florida Project ★★★★½

Every child dreams of one day going to Disney World. To them, it’s the most magical place in the world where all their dreams can come true. While many children will get to experience it at least once in their lifetime, for others this is just a dream and only that, a bleak reality of the world we live in. This is especially true for young mother Halley and her daughter Moonee, a mischievous six year old girl. This notion is made even tougher to take in considering Disney World is mere miles from the cheap motel in which they live. So close yet unreachable to them, bridged only by a light wave. This is the type of realism that Sean Baker loves to show his audience. The gritty, underbelly of society that we know is there but refuse to acknowledge and this is one of the reasons why I love Sean Baker’s films.

For his latest film, The Florida Project, we get a dose of this impoverished lifestyle but instead of focusing on the adults, like he did in his last film Tangerine, Baker focuses on the children and the blissfully ignorant impact it has on them and the people around them. Moonee is our main focal point here. Her and her mother Halley basically live out of a motel called Magic Castle so Moonee’s only friends are children who also live out of the motel with their parents and since a lot of these adults are not the best caretakers/role models, it doesn’t take long for these kids to get into some trouble and can you really be surprised? I mean you are a product of your environment right?

Halley on the other hand is a mother who has one hand on the cliff’s edge, just barely holding on. After losing her job as an exotic dancer, the struggle to find, keep and maintain rent money becomes all too real. While she is caught up and distracted by these facts of life, Bobby, the hotel manager (played wonderfully by Willem Dafoe), tries his best to keep an eye on the children as they frolic around the motel. It is a funny notion as Bobby not only keeps the motel running smoothly, he also has a protective eye for all the children that live there. Quite the opposite of Halley who struggles to not only find or keep a job but also look after her six year old daughter. As Halley’s life crumbles around her, Moonee (I already used this term but it stays very relevant in this film) remains blissfully ignorant of the situation around her. Instead, like a six year old does, she finds happiness and joy in all the little things around her.

Having the camera focus on the children is a genius move from Baker. The film itself could be a more melancholic, sad slice of life film by focusing on just the adults but by using the children AND their imagination as the prime focus, we are treated to a wonderful, colorful world full of opportunity, intrigue and of course, mischievous activities. And this was Baker’s intent of course. Obviously Halley cannot afford to take Moonee to Disney World, so Moonee and the children use their imagination which is the wonderment of this film. Baker has been quoted as saying “she can’t go to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, so she goes to the ‘safari’ behind the motel to look at cows; she goes to the abandoned condos because she can’t go to the Haunted Mansion.” It’s a loving sentiment to what it means to be a child. Let their imaginations run wild and they can find joy and excitement in all forms.

But, it wouldn’t be a Sean Baker film without that quick snap back to reality, right? Eventually Halley makes some bad decisions and finds herself in a situation that threatens to have Moonee taken away from her. It is a tough watch and both Bria Vinaite (actress who plays Halley) and Willem Dafoe absolutely crush this scene and I don’t want to give away details just in case you have not seen it yet. So yeah they absolutely crush that scene but the REAL crushing part, the part that crushed my soul into oblivion was Moonee when she eventually succumbs to the reality surrounding her and breaks down in front of her friend. It is an absolutely heartbreaking moment.

In a film that is filled with darkness because of the struggles of everyone around her, Moonee has been a bright light and to see her finally break down is tear jerking. Brooklynn Prince absolutely stole this movie despite the strong performances from Dafoe and Vinaite. In a world full of bright and vivid colors, Baker isn’t afraid to throw in some dark and sour notes. It's what he does best and although The Florida Project shows us some horribly visceral realities that adults can find themselves in, it also shows us the world through the eyes of those children who also live in those realities. A world full of color, imagination, ice cream and most importantly, happiness. And that’s a beautiful thing.

My Thoughts
1. MVP of the Film - Brooklynn Prince
2. Favorite Scene - End Sequence
3. Favorite Quote - "You know why this is my favorite tree?"
"Why?"
"'Cause it's tipped over, and it's still growing."

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