Joey Lee’s review published on Letterboxd:
This was a really difficult review for me to write and I didn't expect it to be. It isn't even because of the content of the film, which I loved. It's people's reactions to the film that have made it increasingly difficult to digest since leaving the theater. In such a turbulent time in American society, The Florida Project is a Rorschach test for its viewers compassion.
Like Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Florida Project seeks to tear its audiences heart into two pieces in giving us a parent who is very unfit to parent in some essential ways, but loves her daughter exuberantly and unconditionally, which makes the situation all the more heartbreaking. I actually think The Florida Project is less sympathetic to Halley than Beasts of the Southern Wild is to Hushpuppy's Dad and portrays CPS in a more neutral fashion than Beasts of the Southern Wild did.
Add to this that this film is from a child's perspective more than any I've ever seen. The viewer is given clues to what is going on, such as when we overhear Halley talking to the men she's whoring herself out to while Moonie baths her toys in the bathroom. We see Halley stomping around at night and can only infer through another scene with Willem Defoe that she's trying to kill the bedbugs who infect their hotel. The Florida Project gives you a child's observations and asks you to put the pieces together yourself.
There has been so much criticism of Halley for being a bad parent for whoring herself out, but apparently some people did not want to overhear that she lost her job at the strip club because she did not want to resort to turning tricks in the first place. Apparently those people are conveniently forgetting that Halley was also trying to get a job as a waitress through her friend Ashley, but Ashley wasn't made manager as she thought she would be. When people say she did nothing to try to rise out of her economic situation, they are ignoring these details. And guess what, even if she didn't, it would still be understandable. Because trying to hoist herself out of her situation didn't work when she tried.
I see a flawed character who's yelling "Fuck you!" back at a world who told her to go fuck herself over and over again. No, Williem Defoe is the saintly sheriff of the hotel and he doesn't deserve her rage, but I'm guessing those viewers with selective memory of this movie also didn't pick up on the conversation Defoe had with his son, hinting that while he was probably more involved than Moonie's Dad, he was far from perfect.
Society gives men a lot of time to grow up. Maybe Defoe came up short the first time he was asked to parent and he was given that luxury. Halley wasn't. I wasn't struck by the bad aspects of Halley's parenting. I was struck by how such an immature woman was pretty damn good at a lot of aspects of it, like spending time and being present with her daughter. There's a blurred line between girlhood and womanhood in which we fetishize young women and incorporate child rearing into how girls play.
Yes, Moonie is adorable and rude and some day she won't be so adorable and rude and society will respond in kind. Everyone loses in this story. People take issue with Moonie not being really punished for spitting on the car and on Jancey, but thoight those scenes were also to show how similar Halley and Moonie are. Both Halley and Moonie insulted Jancey and her mom with saliva or words respectively, but they both walked away with a new friend that day. Moonie is a sponge, observing everything Halley shows her. Some people hated the pedophile scene because it would have been more realistic to feature a pedophile from the hotel community and while I agree with that, I thought the scene was really tense and well done. You immediately were scared for all the days Dafoe wasn't touching up the motel's paint job.
I'm mixed on the controversial ending, but I think it was better than the cliche viewers could tell was coming and I like contrasting Disneyworld with the magic-lite Florida motels leading up to it. Given that we know the mom has the bands and that it's a straight shot to Disneyworld, I think we can assume that the kids really did run there that day. But that'll doesn't change what is guaranteed to happen when they come back. The Florida Project's melancholy comes from the combination of the sweetness of a child's perspective with a tragic story that happens all too often in real life.