Saturday, 5 October 2019

Movie Review: The Florida Project (2017)


A slice of life drama, The Florida Project passively observes the marginalized lives of America's poor, unemployed and uneducated as they eke out a seemingly futile existence.

In the Orlando suburb of Kissimmee, mischievous six year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) lives at the pink-coloured Magic Castle motel, managed by the sympathetic Bobby Hicks (Willem Dafoe). Moonee's mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) is an unemployed former stripper, and she allows Moonee to run loose all day amongst the strip malls and other cheap motels in the shadow of Walt Disney World, dreaming up pranks with her friends Scooty and Jancey.

Halley struggles to make ends meet and can barely afford to pay the weekly room rate, but Bobby is tolerant and always gives her another chance. Halley's life gets even more difficult when she has a serious falling out with her only friend and source of food, Scooty's mother Ashley. Halley resorts to desperate measures to keep her daughter fed and a roof over their head, and through it all the resilient Moonee does her best to still have a semblance of a childhood.

The daily struggles of society's marginalized can make for compelling cinema, but moving from head-shaking deep shock and sadness towards a film plot requires artistic intervention. Director and co-writer Sean Baker appears intent on getting away with a minimum amount of effort, The Florida Project often resorting to passive observation of kids being kids. Here the children are crude and foul-mouthed, full of potential to unleash vandalism, and completely unsupervised.

But this is mostly documentary-level material lamenting the neglected and pessimistic corners of American society. The juxtaposition of acute poverty with the scrubbed Disney fantasy next door hovers over Moonee, but otherwise the film requires plenty of patience as momentum is assembled at a pedestrian pace.

Eventually Baker gets there by finally shifting focus from Moonee the daughter to Halley the mother, and the adults take over the final third of the movie. Halley's lackadaisical approach to parenting reaches crisis levels, friendships are ruptured, consequences crystallized and eventually social services are called in.

Willem Dafoe injects plenty of humanity as the world-weary and kind hearted Bobby, a kind man in an unkind place always giving his guests the benefit of the doubt because they have precious little else. But once Halley crosses enough boundaries even his bag of tricks to provide continued shelter starts to run out. Whether at The Florida Project or any other location, Moonee's rough start in life renders future optimism the stuff of fantasy.






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