The Florida Project review
For tourist cities like Orlando, Florida and Anaheim, California (both are homes to Disney theme parks), everyone assumes that since both places have large businesses that generate profit, then everyone living there is well. Well…that’s like assuming because there are a lot of wealthy celebrities living in Hollywood, then everyone must be just as well off. The honest truth is that, like any high population centers, there are wealthy and poorer areas. What they have in common is that both are filled with people chasing the American dream. What exactly draws them in is up to them, but for those living in Orlando or Anaheim, they are probably hoping to catch a bit of that Disney magic, hoping it can inspire them.
Both places are also filled with several motels, restaurants, gift shops, and anything that can take some advantage of the tourists. A lot of people work in those places and some even work at the parks. And of course there are those that only live under the shadow of the Disney castles, accepting it as a part of life as they go on with their own goals. In the case of The Florida Project, we get a viewpoint from the lowest end of the economic spectrum.
In Orlando, there are sets of low-end motels that also act as housing. For those places that don't have the budget of a Marriot or a Hilton, they try to lure in people by replicating the Disney experience by adding bright colors or themed names like Futureland or the Large Orange. The majority of the story takes place at the purple-colored hotel called the Magic Castle. Among living there is young mother Halley (played by Bria Vinaite) and six-year-old daughter Moonee (played by Brooklynn Prince)
It's established from the start that Moonee is mischievous and badly behaved, constantly cursing at adults, mooching off of tourists, and just causing trouble. It doesn't help that her mother does nothing to nurture her and even encouraging her. The closest thing to a father figure is the building's manager Bobby (played by Willem Dafoe) whose only doing so reluctantly to ensure that rent is paid. What's worse is that her mother doesn't want to work and uses Moonee to help for extra cash. Over the course of one summer, Moonee goes trough trials and hardships of gaining and losing friends, dealing with her mother, and trying to make any situation fun.
We've seen a lot of movies about childhood and even of bad children, but we rarely get one like The Florida Project that examines that at such a young age. But what's scarier is that there are families with kids that are like that. The Florida Project feels like an honest look at that kind of situation. Putting it within the background of the gate of Disney World adds a lot more style that's visually interesting (both ironic and a relic of another time). But let's talk about the three big stars.
First on Willem Dafoe, who does well, playing a man who you can tell really wants to help those in his motel, but also knows that there's a line between a landlord and a friend and often can't cross it. I can tell that people watching this will have mixed emotions towards him, but I'll let the audience decide. Next, Bria Vinaite as the young mom, is a lot like many parents we've come across; the ones that have already given up and are just trying to get to the next day, regardless if anyone's hurt. Even the one thing she cares for, her child, is not even safe from her toxic lifestyle.
Finally, little Brooklynn Prince as Moonee does more then a great job; she takes the material, a lot that a child shouldn't even have to deal with, and emotes in every fashion that's natural. I'd love to see just how director Sean Baker coached this little girl into understanding the dark material without spoiling the innocent side of her that’s present. It would have been easy to simply make her a bad seed and nothing more, but see's like a well built mess that only her environment could have made her. Though your mad at her in some parts, your more likely to be mad at just how she got there.
I'll give this five motel tourist traps out of five. It may not be the easiest sit through, but The Florida Project presents the opposite effect of successful towns in an engaging way that most filmmaker would have been afraid to tackle. Check it out and get a better understanding about mischievous children…and their innocence.