The Florida Project, directed by Sean Baker, gives us an honest insight, and a powerful commentary on a part of America that is almost completely ignored. With a heartbreakingly authentic feel and a host of characters who feel like their taken directly from the streets and put into the film, The Florida Project is able to communicate its message in a clear, unflinchingly sad way. But it’s important what it has to say, and it does it wonderfully. The film isn’t just there to be enjoyed, it is there to make you think and it certainly caused me too. So let’s explore all it has to say and how it goes about doing that, in my review. On to it we go.
We primarily follow, Moonee – played by Brooklyn Prince – a precocious 6-year old who lives permanently in a motel that is overshadowed by the unavoidable impact and wealth of Disneyland. Moonee spends her days causing trouble with her friends, Scooty – played by Christopher Rivera – and Jancey – played by Valeria Cotto. But their antics are forever in the orbit of reality; poverty and real struggle are things faced by everyone in the motel and no one seems to be able to escape it; especially Moonee’s mum, Halley – played by Bria Vinaite. The film offers a poignant look into the reality of life in a place where people have to do anything to get by, all while their children are close by.
It was clear to me early on, that beyond delivering a film with some unique characters and a perspective on the world that would be free from direct influence, The Florida Project also had something important that it wanted to show us… to tell us. But what I always appreciated, was how it handled the communicating of that.
Right next to what is referred to as, ‘The happiest place on Earth’, you have people living in poverty; who have to live in a motel, paying rent from week-to-week (if they can) and doing anything to get by. Meanwhile, helicopters of the rich and possibly famous, take off on what it pretty much Moonee’s front garden. You can hear and probably see the famed fireworks show that closes out each day at Disneyland. It for me created this sinking feeling in my stomach.
Because our primary window into this part of everyday-America, are children. Disneyland is a place where the dreams of kids come true; where smiles take envelop their faces and everything they could ever imagine wanting is there to enjoy. But that’s not Moonee and her friend’s world. They have to scheme money from people to buy ice-cream, or explore abandoned condos and imagine what it would be like to have a bed of their own. This is reality for them and they have never known anything else.
They are innocent and naive it all. When they wake up in the morning and look upon the world, they don’t see the injustice of it; how unfair and full of lies it is. There’s a real level of poignancy, when you consider the state of things around Disneyland through the eyes of children.
But as I was pointing out a moment ago, the film does not force this message on you. There is no point where it overtly communicates this. It allows you to pick up on it by yourself, as the film progresses. It’s all the more effective when you slowly realise the gut-punching reality of Moonee and the people around her. While she’s obliviously having fun, the real world of lies is on her doorstep, and it’s only a matter of time before it comes knocking.
The film is able to achieve its sense of realism by both the way in which it is shot and the choice in actors/characters. The Florida Project almost has a documentary feel to it. That’s how good it is at telling its story of a real place. It at times felt like they took a camera to the motel and just began shooting real life; filled with genuine people and their everyday lives. The camera moves naturally and exists at the same level as its characters. Acting as a conduit for the audience to experience Moonee’s world, rather than a windowed barrier of disconnection. The film allows the camera to tell its story, while the characters live life in what feels like uninfluenced normality. They are never given dialogue that directly refers to the films message. They simply get on with life as normal and allow it to speak for itself.
Which brings me to one of the most effective aspects of the film: it’s characters and the actors chosen to play them. First off, I have to talk about Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) and her band of troublemakers. These little actors do a wonderfully endearing job. Much of their scenes feel improvised – like the director gave them basic directions and then let them loose to interpret how they might act in the moment. That authentic feel of course adds to the overall film, but it also helps to reinforce Moonee and her friends as individuals, who live everyday causing mischief.
And you have Halley – played by Bria Vinaite – who feels like someone taken out of this life and given the opportunity to portray it on-screen, that’s how good she is. From my understanding, Bria Vinaite is an Instagram model, who director Sean Baker plucked from the photo-filled social media site and chose her to play Halley. You’d expect her inexperience to be an issue, but it really isn’t. Her performance is powerful, again because of how authentic it feels. Though she isn’t a good person; I still pitied her, because making sure that her daughter had a roof over her head, meant she had to do anything to make sure that was the case, no matter what those things might be. To describe her performance as powerful, would be an understatement.
And then rounding out the cast is a wonderfully subtle, yet strong performance from Willem Dafoe, who plays Bobby, the manager of the motel. Bobby is a character who breaks your heart, because he does anything to protect the people staying in his motel, no matter the inconvenience to him. The distances that he will go out of his way to help someone, with no chance of it benefiting him, is somehow both uplifting and upsetting. Dafoe was a great choice for the role as he is the most experienced actor in the film, which plays into his character. Bobby is the caretaker of so many people’s lives, he seems to have things always figured out – he knows how to fix any problem. I have to imagine Dafoe was much the same when it came to being the most well-known actor on the film – there to help and tutor the actors, if they needed him. That’s just my interpretation of course (linking the character and actor like that).
This is a film that strikes a balance between having many moments of levity, where the character (mainly the kids) get you to laugh – which is something I think the film needed, otherwise it would have been a constantly dour experience. But it also slaps you across the face with reality (the final scene with Moonee had me struggling to hold back tears), which I think is a completely fair balance to tackle – especially when you consider what it is trying to say. It somehow says a lot about the state of America by not saying anything direct at all.
I am definitely going to recommend, The Florida Project. This is a powerful film that makes its impact continually felt. It’s not often that a film has such a clear message, but still doesn’t beat you over the head with it. You should experience this film, trust me, it’s important.
I’d love to know you thoughts on the film and my review of it, so please leave any feedback or opinions you may have, in the comments section down below. It would be great of you could follow both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. But I’ll bring the requests to an end and now thank you for taking the time to read my review and wishing you a fantastic day.