The Florida Project written by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch and directed by Sean Baker (A24, Cre Film, Freestyle Picture Company, June Pictures, R, 111 min)
Starring Brooklynn Prince, Christopher Rivera, Aiden Milk, Josie Olivio, Valeria Cotto, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe, and Mela Murder.
The Innocence of Childhood vs. The Horrors of Being Poor
I think my son gets bored some weekends. Whether it’s too hot or too cold, raining, or what-not, we don’t always make it outside, or even if we do, not to the extent my son might wish. In these times of boredom, his imagination runs wild, which can be fun to watch. But I bet he’d likely want to do something more interesting.
Between safety and curbing boredom, I’ll choose safety every time.
But I also halfway mourn what is lost in this context. My childhood—although maybe not this young—was spent exploring my neighborhood. I learned every nook and cranny. These days, an unwatchful eye could mean a call to the police and CPS at the door.
For families dealing with poverty, letting the world be the babysitter might be a necessity when it becomes difficult to get by.
The Florida Project outlines these harsh realities in a heartbreaking fashion.
A Magical Kingdom
Set in a cheap motel near Disneyworld, The Florida Project outlines the plight of Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite).
Moonee runs around the establishment with her friend, Scooty (Christopher Rivera). The story begins in full when a prank introduces them to another kid in a nearby motel. Jancey (Valeria Cotto) starts to tag along with the group and the camera follows them from gaudy destination to gaudy destination on the outskirts of tourist trap USA.
A welfare recipient, Halley supposedly watches the kids while other parents work, but it’s clear she has other priorities on the daily agenda.
When rent becomes difficult to pay and with no jobs imminent, Halley turns to peddling on the street and even darker forms of economic exchange.
A Guardian Angel
While certain observers start to question the viability of Halley’s parenting, Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the manager of the motel, acts almost as a guardian angel. He keeps a watchful eye over the children under his charge.
In a soulful performance, Willem Defoe masters this role, illustrating the world weariness of someone all too aware of poverty’s restrictions but unable to give much more than empty promises and making sure everyone is safe. At most, Bobby skirts the rules of long-term occupancy to help these people out.
The Florida Project is stress-inducing for a parent considering the emotional well-being of a child, but the youthful lens offers a tantalizing framing device for exhibiting the horrors of poverty. Quite often, the camera takes a child’s eye view during the most emotionally trying moments and in those cinematic seconds, the full emotional weight of the movie hits like a ton of bricks without any need for dialogue.
The Florida Project isn’t for everyone, but it certainly represents the highest quality of artistry in film.
Verdict: 4 out of 5