The Florida Project
Directed by Sean Baker
Written by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch
2017/USA

Don’t trust strangers. Stay close to home. Behave. These are all the rules the kids lived by growing up, including myself. We lived our lives day-to-day with no cares in the world, but still followed basic guidelines laid out by our parents and guardians. The Florida Project is a look at how much rules matter when growing up — how kids might live carefree, but guidance is more crucial than ever at a young age. Set in Orlando, Florida, on the fringe of American society and under the socioeconomic climate of a motel skirting the border between the Walt Disney World Resort and those that can only dream of visiting, Sean Baker has crafted a timely American fairytale that captures the real-life stakes of the less fortunate.

Halley (Bria Vinaite) is a young mother to six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), and is struggling on a daily basis to keep a roof over their heads at the Magic Castle, a purple motel that plays host to many of the impoverished American citizens that have fallen through the cracks of society. They make their life their own and do what they can to survive, while still raising their families. Halley is almost always late on her rent (which is $35 a night), while Moonee spends her days with friends from Magic Castle and the nearby motel, Futurelands. These fantasy-themed motels serve as the backdrop to Moonee and her friends’ fantastical adventures, as well as a reminder of what happens when rules aren’t there to keep these adventures grounded in reality.

The Florida Project often moves between Kids Say the Darndest Things to the uncomfortable realities of the homes these kids are brought up in, with the only real notion of guidance coming from Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the manager of the Magic Castle. He runs this community and seems to love doing so, with much of his character being portrayed by his interactions with the kids and their parents, those who call The Magic Castle “home.” His guests abuse him but love him, and he provides the same kind of hard love with recognition that he has the chance to make a difference in these kids’ lives and help the parents find some sort of safety net in his motel.

Dafoe’s performance is incredible, but it’s rivalled by an equally-incredible Brooklynn Prince, who is often given the best lines and delivers them with a charisma and conviction that reminds me of a more aggressive version of Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Moonee swears, has a constant attitude problem, and is always scheming her way out of legitimately consequential scenarios. Her performance truly plays like a younger version of Vinaite’s Halley, who does much of the same, but substituting scheming with yelling in denial to get out of situations. Halley is volatile and reckless, which Vinaite captures with such stunning veracity that she makes every scene difficult to watch, because you can see the staggering influence it has on Moonee. But you can also see Vinaite acting much like a child herself, which provides a glimpse into what may be Moonee’s future with Halley behind the wheel.

The-Florida-Project-new-pictureAt its most basic, a lot of The Florida Project feels like a fly-on-the-wall look at a girl growing up in a motel. Most scenes are through Moonee’s perspective, but occasionally we get a look at Bobby as he converses with some of the other residents of The Magic Castle, or Halley as she hangs out with her one friend, and is exclusively focused on partying. Even the surrounding buildings give a glimpse of life in this area of Florida, with gun shops and run-down housing projects haunting the highways right next to them. You see other people’s lives throughout, but Moonee carries the movie and the impact of her experiences. There’s a slight “kids will be kids” mentality when going into The Florida Project but it’s difficult to not come out recognizing the harsh realities of her situation, and how they have greatly affected her, even if she still can maintain a positive outlook on life.

That’s why The Florida Project shines bright; even through all the hardships that happen, Moonee still can walk out with a positive attitude. By the time the credits rolled, the smile on my face was from ear-to-ear, and all I wanted was to watch the film again. It’s unflinching at times, especially when it starts ratcheting up the tension with Halley’s parenting techniques. Everything works in part because it’s just a slice of life, one that has positive and negative perspectives to look at. Baker triumphs with a film that feels just as fun as Tangerine (his last film), but holds even more weight to it — a weight that anchors and secures it as one of the best films of this year.

  • Christopher Cross

The 42nd annual Toronto International Film Festival is scheduled to be held from 7 to 17 September 2017.

Chris is a graduate of Communications from Simon Fraser University and resides in Toronto, Ontario. His favorite films include The Big Lebowski, The Raid 2, Alien, and The Thing. You will often find him with a drink in his hand yelling about movies.

Leave a comment below.

Latest Posts

AMC has released the official key art for the highly anticipated eighth season of The Walking Dead, which returns Sunday, October 22 at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT, with its 100th episode. The art features Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his group...
light fall

‘Light Fall’ Coming to Nintendo Switch

Light fall has been announced for the Nintendo Switch, having previously been announced for Windows, Mac, PlayStation, and Xbox.
Final Fantasy IX

‘Final Fantasy IX’ is an Often Overlooked Classic

It seems like Final Fantasy IX was destined to be overlooked right from the outset. The game was released for the original PlayStation after the PlayStation 2 was out and selling like warm buns, and the high fantasy setting was in stark contrast to the popular cyber-punk and more realistic settings of FFVII and VIII (two of the best selling entries in the whole series).
mother-movie-e1505747401410

Sordid Cinema Podcast #531: Darren Aronofsky’s ‘mother!’

This week on the Sordid Cinema podcast we discuss Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, a thought-provoking, albeit disturbing vision that may be too unwieldy for mainstream tastes.

Game Boys, Ep. 76: Ghaul, Guardians, and Ghosts Galore!

Eyes up, Guardians, Destiny 2 is here.  Well, this is a podcast, so ears up?  Anyway, here's the Game Boys initial review of one of the biggest sequels of the year.  Listen in as they cover everything from campaign to Crucible, inventory to endgame, and, of course, the raid.  So, join us, it is your destiny!

Top 10 Games with Writer, Brent Middleton

Get to know our writers on a more personal level with their Top 10 Games lists. This time, writer Brent Middleton gushes about his faves.

‘mother!’ Doesn’t Love You; Can You Love It?

Wearing its passionate, bloody heart on its sleeve, mother! is the gift of all gifts for those who love movies: a fountain of cinematic and philosophical conversation wrapped up in skillfully bold genre filmmaking.
etrian-odyssey-v

Demo Dive – ‘Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth’

WIth less than a month till release, let's take a look at the Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth demo currently available on the 3DS E-Shop.
DOOM

‘Doom’, ‘Wolfenstein ll’, and What This Means for the Switch

What does Doom and Wolfenstein II mean for third-party support for the Nintendo Switch?