Wesley R. Ball’s review published on Letterboxd:
June 14th, 2018
I am writing this entry on location in Kissimmee, FL- only eight miles from the Magic Castle Inn where The Florida Project takes place. As Sean Baker's camera slowly unfolded the vibrant Orlando scenery that surrounds Moonee and serves as the backdrop for her endless childhood fantasies, I slowly began to realize that these scenes were becoming all too familiar from the vacation I have been taking down here all this week. The Twistee Treat, a local Kissimmee/Orlando franchise delight, is one in particular that we happened to pass yesterday on the road.
Every time I watch The Florida Project, its stature only grows greater and greater in my eyes. Had The Tree of Life not existed, I would declare this as the greatest film of this decade- and even century, by extension. Moonee's consistent escapism through the fantastical world that she built up with her friends may have been inherited from her mother- a delinquent refusing to grow up who lives in her own fantasy land, trapped by her helpless circumstances that she trapped herself in through her own lack of morals and motivation. The Florida Project offers a slice of that depressing underbelly of America while also offering a form of escapism through Moonee's fashioned reality. We see the trials and challenges that Halley faces in her everyday life trying to support herself and her daughter almost always through Moonee's eyes- her child's innocence strips the audience of certain key details, but enough is known and later revealed to an extent so that we know well enough about her own circumstances.
But what is it specifically about The Florida Project that makes it so endearing in my own eyes? Baker's immaculately colorful photography of the brilliantly purple Magic Castle motel is jaw-dropping gorgeous. You can practically feel the heat and humidity radiating from the screen as we follow Moonee and her friends around these Floridian projects. Baker ensures that his audience is completely immersed in his world- and Moonee's- so that we aren't simply observers to these dramatis personae. Having lived in Florida for almost eight years myself, hot and sweltering summers spent in the shade and licking ice cream cones are what often consumed my own earlier years in life. I love Florida for the endearing memories of its own climate and community- although I would never live there myself, its magnificent attraction for tourism is undeniable.
I think it would be a fantastic experience to watch this film in the Magic Castle. I could spend a few days down here, start by watching The Florida Project and then try to visit some of the sites that Moonee and her friends visit or pass by on their various wandering adventures. Then top it off by a one-day visit to the Magic Kingdom. After all, that's the entire point of the film's climax. When I went to the Magic Kingdom the other day, it was a stunning experience. No matter what age you are, it's a spectacular getaway for one to forget about the worries and woes of life, if only for a few fleeting hours. It represents the apex of Moonee's dreams and desires- never mind wondering how that dream would have been achieved at that exact moment. The Florida Project is all about childhood dreams, and how those dreams can be used as the highest form of escapism from a distressing reality. Baker doesn't lionize or demonize his main adult character, neither does he attempt to insert any kind of melodrama into his fever dream. He, like us, simply observes and oversees these events as they unfold, moment by moment, without any fanfare or tension (until its heart-wrenching conclusion, of course). A divisive film for many, to say the least, but for me it's one of the finest achievements that cinema has offered us yet- one of the closest moments we've gotten to blurring the line between fiction and reality without completely breaking that barrier.