Movie Review: The Florida Project
Director: Sean Baker
by Jason Koenigsberg
The Florida Project is a slice of American life not often seen in movies. There have been films about poverty. 2016 was a year where that theme that was touched upon by many of the years best films. This movie looks at growing up in poverty almost exclusively from the point of view of children. It was very reminiscent of last year’s American Honey only with elementary school children with nothing to do over their summer break wandering around instead of teenagers on a road trip of self discovery. The Florida Project is a very interesting look at growing up in poverty from a child’s perspective.
The opening shot features kids sitting against a bright purple concrete wall. The purple really stands out as a pastel color, like the kind you would find on Easter eggs. The kids run away in excitement and then the opening credit roll on top of that same bright purple wall. Colors play a predominant role in The Florida Project is . Since it is told from children’s eyes there are a lot of bright solid colors that stand out. Purple is most prominent since it is the color of the cheap hotel our main characters live, located live in the shadows of Disney World.
This is a portrait of very poor working class people, living in cheap hotels. The foul mouthed little kids run rampant with little or no parental guidance. Where American Honey chose to focus on the teens and their coming of age, The Florida Project feels like American Honey‘s little sister because this is probably a similar experience to the main characters younger siblings in that movie.
The children’s performances were the best part of The Florida Project, especially Moonee, the precocious main character played by Brooklynn Prince. It is a sad reality that this is how millions of children around the world probably grow up. Despite all of this the children seem happy because they do not know any better. The ending is heartbreaking when the main character pleads to her best friend because she does not understand her own feelings as her world of living in slum hotels may be turned upside down. The end almost makes the entire film so much more powerful than it was while sitting there in the theater.
The Florida Project is a good film but it is not nearly interesting enough to sustain two hours. Perhaps a shorter run time could have benefited the picture as a whole, but the ending may be one of the best from any film this year. It is poignant how this film makes you question what makes a person a good parent. Mooney’s mother is the worst kind of white trash stereotype one can imagine, yet The Florida Project makes you feel sorry for her and even like her even though she is completely unfit to be a parent. The relationship between her and her daughter has some genuinely warm moments.
Hard to believe that I made it this far without mentioned the films biggest star Willem Dafoe as the kindhearted hotel manager where they live. He performs routine maintenance around the property and his generous actions help the mother, although one could argue that his sincere intentions could be enabling her to continue her torrid lifestyle and hurt her daughter in the long run. Dafoe’s best scene involves him confronting a potential sexual predator he sees talking to children at the hotel playground. I am intentionally vague with plot points but despite the longer than needed runtime and some other shortcomings The Florida Project makes a worthy recommendation for a unique look at growing up in poverty. Some moments especially from the children will make you laugh and others will tug at your heartstrings in a way only some very special movies can. It may not be a great movie, but it has undeniably superb moments, especially it’s shattering ending.