In an age when reality is more scripted than a Hollywood Blockbuster it is hard to have a true insight into some peoples dark reality. That is what Sean Baker does expertly with his film The Florida Project. Basing many of the scenarios off experiences he learnt during his research for the film, Baker’s work of fiction brings to life a hard look at how the housing crisis in America is affecting the lives of many. Inside this heavy-handed film is a beautiful story told through the innocent eyes of children, whose lives are deeply affected by their surroundings, living in poverty and yet, still posses a child-like awe of the world.
Moving away from a traditional narrative, the story feels more like a day in the life, (it is actually more like a summer in the life) of six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her friends as they go about, trying to find new ways to entertain themselves, even through unappealing methods. As director Sean Baker puts it, he wanted for the kids to be the Kings and Queens of their domain, something that is conveyed through every heart felt scene that focuses on the children. Moonee’s mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) is an unemployed woman in her early twenties, living week to week as she struggles to make ends meet and struggles to be a mother to Moonee. Despite Halley’s failings as a mother, Moonee still continues to find fun and adventure roaming around the motels with her friends.
Willem Dafoe plays Bobby the manager of the motel Halley and Moonee live in, with a performance that will surely gain him some award consideration. Frustrated by the misdeeds of the kids, and irritated by immature actions of Halley, Bobby acts as a guardian for all who stay at his motel. Despite the tough exterior that normally accompanies a Dafoe performance, Bobby is one of the more loveable adults, especially with the way he deals with the kids, a tough but fair style of parenting not afforded to them by their own parents. Bobby’s own relationship with his son is briefly explored, when he calls on Jack (Caleb Landry Jones) to help do jobs around the motel. This relationship felt a little under developed but at the same time, this isn’t Bobby’s story.
The real genius in this movie comes from the way the kids are shot, always from their level, never above. This technique ultimately makes the film more engaging for the audience, seeing the world as Moonee and the others do. This is where the true joy can be found in this movie, despite all the bad that is happening around them. I don’t know if the scenes with the kids were unscripted, but everything these kids do feels unscripted and unrehearsed, creating an authentic and natural feel to their words and actions. Prince in particular, does an incredible job mimicking the behaviour of her on-screen mother, though as the film goes on you will question which one is more mature.
There is a heart to every scene with Moonee and her friends, a sense of wonder and enjoyment. The types of adventures that the kids embark on isn’t often seen in movies that follow kids the same age, set in modern times. The way these kids roam between motels, finding joy is the smallest things is usually reserved for the 80s nostalgia we are currently seeing. Moonee’s mother Halley, on the other hand is the dark reality of the film. Unlike other movies of similar nature, The Florida Project takes an unsympathetic approach to Halley and her situation. There is a level of empathy for anyone in her situation, but Halley’s world against me/ owes me everything attitude makes her an unlikeable character. Ultimately at the end of the film any sympathy for her is gone, an action not often taken in films regarding down and out parents.
The Florida Project is definitely a film for lovers of cinema and award movies.
The Florida Project scores 8.5/10
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