written by Meghan Ianiro
The blissful ignorance of childhood meets the gritty harshness of adulthood in The Florida Project. The critically-acclaimed film, distributed by A24, was written and directed by Sean Baker and co-written by Chris Bergoch. The Florida Project is set at The Magic Castle—a cheap motel located near Disney World, where we meet 6-year-old Moonee and her friends who live life fearlessly, freely and almost always unsupervised. Moonee’s equally rebellious mother, Halley, is a young 20-something struggling to make ends meet as a single mother, hustling week-by-week to pay her rent, and often clashing with the motel’s manager, Bobby. By juggling his attempts to keep things in check at the motel while being a people pleaser, we see that Bobby is struggling to meet demands of his own. Bobby also finds himself having to frequently step into the protective and disciplinary role of parent, not only to Moonee and her friends, but to Halley as well. It becomes apparent that Halley is just as much of a child as Moonee is. She behaves immaturely, acts on impulse, and has the same childlike spirit—only with very adult responsibilities. Looking at a mother who smokes blunts, swears like a sailor, and acts obscenely (just to name a few reckless behaviors) around her 6-year-old daughter, it’s almost an instant reaction to say that Halley is an awful parent. But in equal regard, those same vices are paired with the strong bond Halley shares with Moonee: the moments of laughter they share together, the sacrifices Halley makes for her, the unconditional love and defense she has for Moonee, and most importantly, the fact that she never lets her daughter in on the darkness that lies just outside of her made-up fantasy land of childhood wonder. Moonee is happy, after all, and it’s worth mentioning that despite the trouble Moonee consistently gets herself into, she always obeys her mother—a sign of mutual respect. Aside from the obvious safety concerns, it almost poses the question of “What makes a good parent?”
The film paints the picture of ‘childhood innocence vs adulthood despondency’ beautifully: the contrast of the brightly-colored but tacky motel, Bobby’s confrontation with a sketchy older man who approaches Moonee and her friends, the sanctuary-like barrier Halley creates for Moonee during her baths, Halley and Moonee’s shared breakfasts and dollar store shopping sprees, I could go on… But perhaps one of the film’s most breathtaking scenes is a short moment in which Halley and Moonee are dancing and laughing in the rain. The scene brought a tear (or multiple tears...) to my eye because it encapsulates exactly what the film is all about—finding youthful joy and sunshine, even in the darkest, most unexpected moments.
THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Director: Sean Baker
Screenplay: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Release: May 22, 2017 (Premiere), October 6, 2017 (US), February 2018 (DVD + Blu-ray)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Cinematography: Alexis Zabe
Music: Lorne Balfe
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones
Country: United States
From its vulnerable storytelling, to its visually stunning cinematography, The Florida Project has every ingredient that will make someone fall in love with a film. The all-star cast, however, is to thank for breathing life into this heartfelt drama. Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of Bobby adds a nurturing soft side and a warm sense of empathy to what would otherwise be a administrative character with no heart and soul. The emotion in his eyes alone is dialogue within itself. Bria Vinaite delivered a performance that was so sincere and honest in her portrayal of Halley that it almost felt as though The Florida Project was a documentary. The level of charisma and ferocity with the subtle hints of fragility that Vinaite brings to the character was incredibly compelling to watch, and she’s able to turn a troubled Halley into a Halley you want to root for. And what more can be said about Brooklynn Prince? The young superstar captured the hearts of so many (and the Critics Choice Award for Best Young Performer) through her portrayal of Mooneee. It’s so common to see child actors play adorable, one-dimensional roles, but Prince brings forth a sense of maturity and awareness that contributed to making Moonee a multi-layered character with real thoughts and feelings. It was endearing and refreshing, and already exhibiting traits of a seasoned actor, little Prince just may be the next big thing.
If you’re looking for a film that tugs at your heartstrings and makes you nostalgic for a simpler time in your life, watch The Florida Project. Then, eat some ice cream inside and go on a wild safari with your friends.
The Florida Project is now playing in select theatres, with a DVD release set for February, 2018.