"Modern Day Hooverville”
A Review of "The Florida Project" by Nathan H. Box
Director: Sean Baker, Writers: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch, Starring: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe
Rating: 5 Stars, SHOWTIME
Set over one summer, the film follows precocious 6-year-old Moonee as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, all while living in the shadows of Disney World.
In the shadow of the happiest place on earth, exists a new and modern Hooverville. Miles apart feel like worlds as families spend hundreds, if not thousands, on hotels, rides, food, and souvenirs at Disney World. Just down the road sits chains upon chains of cheap hotel rooms where families live thanks to affordable weekly rates. This is a new cycle of poverty in America; a product of the Great Recession. Men, women, and children caught between living on the street or in their car and owning their own home. Instead, hotel rooms provide sanctuary.
“The Florida Project” is about the children caught in the middle due to no fault of their own. They didn’t ask for their parents to be sold a subprime mortgage. They never asked for addiction or illness to visit their door. They are kids. They want to play, watch cartoons, make friends, and get into mischief. This film does a brilliant job of showing kids oblivious to the pain of their guardians; just living in their bliss. It is as this point I should tell you how fantastic the child-actors in this movie are. Never before have I seen small children act this well. They made me laugh. They broke my heart. More importantly, they made me care.
The glue of this film is Willem Dafoe. He plays the manager of the Magic Castle, where most of the film takes place. At his core, he is a man doing the best he can. On one hand, he understands kids need to be kids and the pressure their parents/guardians are under. On the other hand, he is trying to run a hotel in the middle of tourist-centric Florida. At times, he plays part father figure and confident. At other times, he is stern and focused on business. His push and pull hold this film together.
At its core, this movie is about survival amid poverty. Bria Vinaite, plays Halley, the mother of new comer Brooklynn Prince, who plays her daughter, Moonee. Halley is a mother who is constantly trying and failing. She is attempting to be a present parent and give her daughter the childhood she wishes she had. She is doing everything in her power to make this dream a reality. This includes selling perfume to tourists and even paid sex. Where Halley fails, is in her youth. She is a young mother still focused on drugs, partying, and sex. Trying to live in both worlds forces a reality upon her small family where survival one day to the next is in doubt. At times, the struggle is hard to watch. For most of us, this is a world unknown. That’s a good thing! Good movies should make us feel uncomfortable.
A movie like “The Florida Project” can only really end in one of two ways. The family can be rescued from poverty or the whole thing can come crashing down. We’ve seen the first movie before. The second storyline is much more intriguing. The movie decides to take the second route and in doing so humanizes the entire experience in a way which makes this movie a true Oscar contender.
Be good to each other,
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