The Florida Project (2017)

  • Time: 115 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Sean Baker
  • Cast: Willem Dafoe, Caleb Landry Jones, Macon Blair, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto


Set over one summer, the film follows precocious 6-year-old Moonee as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, all while living in the shadows of Disney World.

One review

  • The title “Florida Project” refers to (i) the projects type of crammed, seedy community these working and unemployed denizens are crammed into, and (ii) writer/director Sean Baker’s undertaking to record the life children and their single moms live in the American underbelly.
    This Florida digs beyond the fantasy of Disneyworld to the seediness of the cheap old motel where the transient can afford to take temporary root. This is the world that the liberals disdain, Hillary’s “deplorables,” the people who see no other hope than voting for Trump.
    In an early scene a honeymooning couple find they’ve booked into the cheap motel Magic Castle, not the Disney luxurious fantasy. At the end little Moonee and Jansey run toward that Disney dreamworld, in futile attempt to escape their unaccommodating reality.
    Tom Sawyer meets Thelma and Louise.
    The bulk of the film is the amazing spectacle of Moonee and her friends bouncing through a life of simple adventures. Fueled on sugar the kids are constantly running, dancing, jumping, doing everything especially the forbidden. “We’re not supposed to go into that room. Let’s go in anyway.” The blackout they cause the whole motel brightens their day, their unharnessed mustang spirit.
    When they burn down the vacated condo complex the blaze excites the kids and adults alike. But it forces a rift between the two kids’ mothers, Moonee’s Halley and the girlfriend who has been giving them free food from her diner.
    The motel women provide a spectrum of responsibility. At one end is the African American grandmother raising her daughter’s child. She knows discipline should not be fun. Then there’s Scooty’s hard-working waitress mom who is close and generous towards Halley until she feels her son endangered by Halley’s example.
    At the other, Halley is more immature than her six-year-old daughter. To earn money Halley lives on the fly, hawking cheap perfume, feeding off friends and fraud, finally turning to prostitution, which loses first her best friend then Moonee.
    Apparently Moonee has not been going to school. She has to be told what “recess” is, because her life has been one long recess. So has Halley’s, which makes her eventual loss of her daughter inevitable. Tragic, but inevitable.
    The film’s themes and emotions are propelled by the children’s amazing performances, especially Brooklynn Prince as Moonee. In the concluding wallop Moonee runs to Jansey not to seek refuge from the social agency — which we first expect — but to say goodbye. She knows she has lost her freedom, her mother, her particular childhood.
    When the once goodie-goodie Jansey takes her hand and runs away with her, the kids make one last grab at the life they want to live. Like their mothers, they’ll have to lapse into the life to which their social and economic status restricts them.
    In the opening shot, the motel wall provides an abstract composition of pink and grey. The two squirming kids seated in front of it inject life into that abstraction, as the characters do to terms like “the projects” or “the deplorables.”
    Indeed the range of settings frustrates any attempt at generalization. The motel embodies the life Florida tourists ignore. The commercial landscapes are a surreal eruption of crazy buildings and garishness.
    Against those two forms of denaturedness, two scenes find Moonee freeing her imagination in escapes to nature. In one she sits in what she declares her “favourite tree”: it fell over but still carries on. That prefigures her own conclusion. Then she takes Jansey on “safari” — to a field of cows. The games and adventures Moonee keeps inventing are her spontaneous attempt to imagine a richer life than her situation provides. It’s a livelier alternative to her mother’s armour of tattoos.
    Presiding over this world is motel manager Bobby. Willem Dafoe is more familiar as an edgy, crazy character, which lends weight to the moral and character centre he plays here. His responsibility continually pitches him against Moonie’s mischief and Halley’s truancy. But he cares for them both. He achieves a modest heroism when he spots and assails a child molester, then when he drives off Halley’s threatening john. But when the social agency and police get involved, Bobby can only stand aside, sympathetic but helpless.
    Bobby tries to keep up the motel’s image. He repaints the walls and plans to fix the washers. He tries to enforce the laws. The owner instructs Bobby to have the tenants move their bikes off the front balcony. Clearly he wants to upscale the place — like the other motel Bobby tries to get Halley into. The wheels of the economy grind on. Soon even this Magic Castle will go upscale, casting out its desperate tenants and challenging them even more.
    These are the characters America has left behind.

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