The Florida Project is a drama directed by Sean Baker and co-written with Chris Bergoch, starring Brooklyn Kimberly Prince, Bria Vinaite, and Willem Dafoe. I am unfamiliar with the director’s previous work, but if any of his films is only half as good as this one, then he definitely is one of the most promising young American directors.
The story takes place in and around the Magic Castle motel in Kissimmee, Florida. This is one of those “slice of life” films, the ones where the focus isn’t necessarily to tell a story, rather to show a certain community in a certain period of time. The focus of the film is on Moonee (Brooklyn Prince), a six-year-old who spends the summer playing with other kids from different motels, going on little adventures and just enjoying childhood. The other focus is Moonee’s mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), who is spending her day either smoking joints while watching TV in her motel room, or hustling by selling cheap perfume or stolen items to clueless tourists.
The film jumbles different emotions, going from a fun moment with the children conning people to buy an ice cream, to a dramatic scene between Halley arguing with the manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe). Most of the film is seen from the point of view of the children, and that can be seen with how beautiful the cinematography is, with pastel colors and high saturation that show that even in the dirtiest of places children can still have fun and make the best out of their situation, while the reality of the adults is much grimmer and depressing.
It goes without saying that everybody in this film is absolutely phenomenal: the child actors are incredibly believable, and you grow to love and hate how they act (as you would with any child), and Bria Vinaite is great at being an irritating, frustrating, and all around sad woman whose living conditions have turned her into what she is. But it is Willem Dafoe that steals each scene he is in: often type-casted as “the crazy guy”, here he delivers his most human and moving performance since 2000’s Shadow of the Vampire. In a world where so many adults are neglecting their children, he becomes a father figure, protecting the children from some of the dangers of the outside world, joking around and playing games with them, and trying to safeguard their innocence.
The script is absolutely outstanding, delivering believable dialogue that is never expository and that leaves some aspects of these people’s lives up for interpretation, building up their dynamics with natural interactions. The almost documentary and objective look at all the characters inhabiting the motel makes you feel a whole lot of empathy for them, making you hate the (very human) choices they make because you end up loving them. These characters are a perfect example of today’s society, where there is a tendency to take pictures and videos of horrific acts simply because “they are so much better than TV”; and the TVs are always on, with annoying advertisements and loud and colorful cartoons, filling the emptiness of the lives of those watching them. By always having something on, even at night while sleeping, there is barely a moment to reflect on one’s own life and choices, as if these characters are trying to avoid the painful truths of what they have become. The ones who pay for the sins of their parents are their children, who should always be able to live their childhood without being contaminated by the horrible troubles and people that inhabit the real world. They live in their own, perfect world; one where their goal is to reach the magic castle, to live inside a fairy-tale, with a happy ending rather than a grim one.
Overall, The Florida Project is an outstanding film: filled with memorable and human characters, this roller-coaster ride of emotions will have you smiling with tears flowing down your cheeks as soon as the credits start rolling. Don’t miss out on this hidden gem, make sure to check it out as soon as you can!
Visual Effects: 9
Violence & Gore: 6
Sex & Nudity: 5
Drugs & Profanity: 6
Intensity & Horror: 6