PLOT- Single-mom Halley (Bria Vinaite) lives with her precocious six-year old daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) in an Orlando motel, just down the road from Walt Disney World. Halley has lost her job as a dancer in a strip club and finds herself in a desperate situation, turning to a variety of illegal activities to make ends meet. Moonee makes friends with other young residents of nearby motels and spends her days getting into mischief. The motel manager, Bobby (Willem Dafoe) struggles with his own moral compass with regards to interacting with the tenants.
LIKE- Many years ago, I saw a documentary about families who live in poverty at the cheap motels that surround the Disneyland resort in Anaheim. It was shocking and revealed a world that I didn't know existed. The Florida Project is a fictionalized version of that documentary, set in Orlando, rather than Anaheim. The subject drew me to the film, but the rave reviews made it a must-see.
The Florida Project is really split into two stories, one centering on the adults and the other on the children. They each inhabit different story worlds.
For the adults, Orlando is a bleak, dump. They can't seem to catch a break, especially Halley, who is on a downward trajectory throughout the entire film. Bobby is the most conflicted character and he becomes a stand-in for the audience. He is the witness to all of the poverty, abuse, struggle, neglect...Bobby is in pain as he takes on the burden of all that he sees and yet, he is constantly conflicted as to when he should step in. He wants to do good and to make the "right" decisions, but some situations force him to take action and the result isn't without harm. Bobby could take the easy route and remain a bystander, but he doesn't. I took this as writer/director Sean Baker's overriding message for The Florida Project, that it's too easy to be passive towards the suffering of others. It's too easy to be inactive. It's too easy to ignore the poverty in these motels, when you're enjoying your expensive family vacation at Disney World. I got a kick out of seeing the cheesy souvenir shops that we visited on our last Orlando vacation ( the giant wizard and mermaid), but that was tempered when I thought about the meaning of The Florida Project. Another aspect, is that the problems faced by residents like Halley, are complicated and do not have simple solutions.
The children have a different experience. Yes, they do bear witness and feel the effects of poverty and crime, yet their childhood maintains a magical quality. They find adventure and friendship in the motel parking lots and adjacent swamp areas. They enjoy the wonder of watching the Magic Kingdom fireworks from a nearby field and the thrill of exploring an abandoned housing development. Moonee loves spending time with her mom and sees beyond the problems. There is a great deal of hope with the children and this brings a sense of joy to The Florida Project.
I read that Vinaite was cast after being discovered on Instagram and that The Florida Project is her first film. She is incredible, truly. Dafoe is given top-billing and is the biggest star, but Vinaite and Prince drive the entire movie. Dafoe's role, while important, is relatively small. The Florida Project is primarily a mother-daughter film, with the friendship between the children as a secondary plot. Dafoe's character and storyline is a distant third in importance. Speaking of the children, Valeria Cotto and Christopher Rivera are both marvelous as Moonee's friends, Jancey and Scooty. They were so natural as a trio of friends, that I kept forgetting that I wasn't watching a documentary.
The ending was pitch-perfect. It is beautiful and heartbreaking. It so affecting, that no one in theater moved until the entire credits ended. I left feeling stunned.
DISLIKE- Not a single thing. The Florida Project is one of the best movies that I've seen in 2017.
RECOMMEND- YES!!!! The Florida Project deserves to be seen and discussed. It also deserves to be a strong contender during awards season.