George Clark’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Florida Project is a 2017 American naturalistic comedy/drama film directed, edited and co written by Sean Baker and stars Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Christopher Rivera, Valeria Cotto and Caleb Landry Jones.
The plot follows a six-year-old girl living with her delinquent mother in a motel in Kissimmee, Florida, as they try to stay out of trouble and make ends meet. What’s interesting about this premise is that it shows the misery of living in Kissimmee in contrast to Florida’s Walt Disney World that’s often called “The Happiest Place on Earth”.
For a long time now I’ve had this on my watchlist so I thought it was about time I watched it and wow, I loved it. Sean Baker really made a powerful film. The “paternalistic relationship between Willem Dafoe‘s Bobby and Bria Vinaite‘s Halley worked perfectly in the film with both performances being absolutely heart-ranching to watch throughout. Young Brooklynn Prince also puts in a star performance as the fowl mouthed sweet kid Moonee and as the film is based around her, absolutely steals the show.
I’ve never lived how they have and for that I count myself lucky but what I can do is sympathise. You feel sorry for Bobby as he’s trying his best to run the Motel whilst also looking out and caring for Halley and Moonee. It’s obvious throughout that he cares deeply for those he’s affiliated with so watching the utter disappointment and despair in his face towards the end was truly harrowing. You also feel sorry for Halley as she tries her best to make things meet and escape the impending homelessness both he and her daughter face. Yes the way she goes about her business probably isn’t “morally right” but she does try and care for Moonee despite the failed friendships and issues she faces. The film shows the audience the child like innocence that Moonee has, she doesn’t quite understand everything around her and just wants to play and have fun with her friends as they come and go and because of this the impact her surroundings have on her will impact her for the rest of her life. The audience knows that this motel in Kissimmee, Florida isn’t a good environment for her to be bought up in, but we get to see it throughout her eyes and despite its bad nature, she makes it seem like that the ideal place for her whereas the audience knows it’s not. Despite her young age, these two perspectives really goes to show how once upbringing can have an effect on someone’s life, whereas we think it’s a bad place for her to live as a child, Moonee has friends and enjoys the time she spends there.
Despite ones opinion, one thing you can’t hold against this film is the look of it. For me, it’s the literal representation of art. It’s beautiful, gorgeous to look at and the colour template is truly brilliant and works with the vibrant landscape. This offers a stark contrast to the rather bleak lives some residents live there as the colour makes it all seem like a vibrant happy place whereas the harsh reality is that next to “The happiest place on Earth”, it can sadly be rather depressing.
Whilst the ending might not be my favourite part of the film, it displays the relative freedom the girls want and escapism from their current livelihoods. (Spoilers) As the last shot follows the two girls as they run into Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, they stop standing just in front of the amusement park's actual magic castle, this final scene shows the joy both want to experience as they escape from a their lives for a short while and ends on a higher note than the previous sequence would have you believe and for that, I did rather enjoy that final shot as it brings hope to the audience allowing them to believe that despite the turmoil that caused the situation, at least they have a moment of pure happiness as they run away into Walt Disney World.
The way Sean Baker both directed, co wrote and edited this film really serves as a testament to how talented he is. The way they incorporate the helicopter into the film because they didn’t have enough in the $2 million budget to stop them (thanks for the fact Siegels comment section) really worked for me and made it seem that much more realistic. A24 has a knack for developing/buying low budget art-house films and this is now exception, it’s a thing of beauty with endless potential for rewatches and it’s one I definitely want to delve deeper into in the near future.
What’s your opinions on The Florida Project?