The Florida Project

The Florida Project ★★★★

Just standing right by the outskirts of the magical place of Disney World, covered in the public eye by the realm of imagination's shadows even in the blazing sun, is the city of Kissimmee, home to many of a lower class and, more pertinent, the cheapo motel known as the Magic Castle. This is where The Florida Project calls home, a world of squalor and struggle that invites internal problems such as our lead child Moonee's mother, who continuously shows irresponsible behavior that makes her love for her child that much harder to swallow. Yet, even in the face of this these children are unfazed, behaving as if these and many other external problems are just a part of life, and that anything that happens today is either a chance for an adventure, playtime, or troubles that will all pass away the next day. The first of two scenes to have any sort of music overlayed starts with Kool and the Gang's "Celebration", as if the events that will play out are seen as more of a playful romp, even as the film progresses towards a permanent change to this.

Like a child precociously bouncing around from one thing to next in a constant state of wonder, there is no true plot to the film, or at least one that follows a rigid structure. Sure, some key objects and plot points come back into play over time, but for the most part Sean Baker chooses to let these characters just live out their lives, letting the days and weeks roll by and giving a true sense of what it is like to live within this unappealing land. The kids we follow are rambunctious as hell, looking to cause mischief only to have something to fill their time, and behaving in a way any child left to their own devices would, utilizing kid logic in the way they respond to the Floridian landscape and the way they speak to each other (helping this is the copious amount of improvisation to really make this portrayal of underclass life as authentic as possible). It's endearing to see them just free-roaming, and heartrending when things take a sour turn.

The closest to an antagonist in this picture is Halley, Moonee's mother, and her continuous struggles in her poverty. Her reckless behavior and disregard towards any standards for good parenting aside from the unconditional love for her daughter constantly pits her against a better world, as well as the illegal ways she tries desperately to pay for her rent such as her prostitution or re-selling perfume that show a woman who doesn't understand her influence on Moonee. Constantly Halley shows immense immaturity, and little thought to properly discipline when dealing with her daughter or to see her position as something where she is at fault. It could be easy to write her off as simple white trash, and the snide, condescending responses to those she thinks she is better than certainly conjures up some of the worst of youth culture, but Baker chooses not to demonize her and show that Halley is a troubled soul dealt a crummy hand by society and little chance to succeed, asides from keeping her daughter safe. It's a concerning view into the poor, of a broken toy of a parent who just couldn't (or likely wouldn't) grow up to become anything different from Moonee.

The Florida Project is a hard-hitter because it takes a view of a side of America too little seen and too little discussed, all while using childlike imagination to find some beauty even in all of it. Many of the buildings when we see them for the first time are shown in captivating wide shots that put in perspective not only the size but the mystical nature of these places of commerce by people who are world-weary, but of the world in their heads (give credit, they make the giant wizard head gift shop appealing). All the while making the best of their situations by seeing the worst as just another part of the ride, and the final scene implies this world of imagination is still stronger to these kids than even the most life-changing events. And as the helicopters fly by, whether they be police or the fat cats, life goes on, uninterrupted and without any real knowledge of what lies in tomorrow. Paradise at the Magic Castle isn't as stable as the Magic Kingdom, but it's there with the right amount of naiveté.

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