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At some point in many of our lives, the fantasies that occupy mundane moments fade away as reality creeps to the forefront.
It’s time for another quarantine watch. This week’s film, The Florida Project, was one that was initially on my radar when it was released in 2017. Like many independent films, this movie had a limited run in theaters (oh, how I miss thee), which meant I wasn’t able to catch it on the silver screen.
The Florida Project is currently available to watch on Netflix, for those interested. Produced by A24, an American indie entertainment company, The Florida Project boasts a vividly pastel color palette with striking visuals and a warm, almost humid aesthetic.
Dripping with grit and sparks of true humor, The Florida Project explores the very real scenarios many people face daily. In it, you’ll find characters who are despicable in nature, yet so raw and real you can’t turn away from their exploits.
The Florida Project centers around six-year-old Moonee and her mother Halley, who live out of a room at The Magic Castle motel in Florida, right outside the manufactured dreamland that is Walt Disney World (particularly, Magic Kingdom). The film follows Moonee through a sweltering summer as Halley struggles to provide for herself and her daughter, who find themselves in increasingly dire circumstances.
Halley pays the motel manager Bobby (played by Willem Dafoe in one of his best performances) weekly, and it doesn’t take long to see his guarded exterior crack as he cares for all the motel children who roam the grounds of The Magic Castle and beyond. Painted in a lively lilac purple, the motel acts as the bones from which all the children, especially Moonee, find new adventures and explore adult situations much too early for any little kid.
Moonee finds magic every day, in her own imagination, in her journeys with her friends and in the moments most affluent people would take for granted. Clearly her small family is not doing well financially – and The Florida Project illustrates the powerful, gripping way in which childhood can shield innocence in the face of near-hopelessness.
The performances in The Florida Project are the main pull for the film. Dafoe is the only veteran actor as Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and Halley (Bria Vinaite), along with the majority of the cast, were inexperienced, first-time actors.
Director Sean Baker used their inexperience to the film’s advantage – allowing much of the dialogue and interaction between the children to be improvised as they played together on set. The entire cast gives raw, startling portrayals of humanity, emphasizing poignant moments of stark truth and riveting maturity.
Fair warning: the ending proved to be quite polarizing. Critics and audiences alike grappled with how they received the final moments. It is not difficult to understand or “get” the purpose of it, but every other scene building up to the penultimate one was poignant and beautiful – the turn at the end was, for this reviewer, a bit unsatisfying.
All in all, The Florida Project offers an hour and 51 minutes of beautiful cinematography, strong direction and an endearing story. In my experience, you’ll find yourself stunned, you’ll find yourself worried and you’ll find yourself smiling.
Film: The Florida Project
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted) for language throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material.
Currently available to watch/stream on Netflix
Dir. by Sean Baker
Written by Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch