The Florida Project is one of those rare movies that is short on plot, but heavy on realism. Sean Baker proves that he should be regarded as one of the best character directors working today. The Florida Project feels completely unscripted, and that’s what makes it so great. As an audience member, you get the feeling that a camera was just placed in these run-down Florida hotels and they just filmed real life situations. This is truly 2017’s Moonlight, and not one that you want to miss.
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.
The setting is three cheap and rather disgusting hotels, all Disney World themed. The story revolves around numerous characters, including sassy and very grown up 6 year olds, the parents, and the hotel manager Bobby (William DaFoe). DaFoe turns in an Oscar-worthy performance, giving layers to a character with no back story. This is easily his best role in years. Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) delivers a performance that’s the best from a child actor since Jacob Tremblay in 2015’s Room. Moonee has a sliver of innocence coupled with a sailor’s mouth thanks the environment she is growing up in. Her mother Hailey (Bria Vinaite) definitely cares about Moonee, but the way she’s raising her isn’t in her best interest. The movie does a really good job of giving both the perspective of the children and their adventures, and the parents and their struggles.
Sean Baker really demonstrates his confidence as a director in The Florida Project. His past movies have been very character driven and filled with realism, and I think he went above and behind with this one. The writing is very impressive as well because the story is minimal, but the movie is extremely engaging and eye-opening. You feel sympathy for the children and anger towards Hailey most of the movie, and I love how the writing didn’t save Hailey in the end. She’s overall and awful mom, and you can’t just get out of that.
The cinematography fits the themes of the story very well. One of the main themes is innocence, especially with the children holding onto it. Shot on 35mm, it has a very different look from Baker’s last film Tangerine, which was shot on an iPhone. There were some focus issues on some of the close-ups, but overall the camera work was very well executed.
The exploration of poor America in The Florida Project is what makes it great. So many people have no idea the struggles of living from dollar to dollar and how it affects children. Seeing Hailey drag Moonee along to sell some perfume to more wealthy people in parking lots is tough to watch. The Florida Project has numerous similar scenes, some being even more intense. I wanted to look away but I simply couldn’t.
The Florida Project is one of the best movies to come out in 2017 and it will be a major Oscar contender come February. Don’t go into expecting a bunch of dramatic things to happen. It is more of a character study of poverty in America, and how innocence is something we all wanted to hold onto at some point. It will make you laugh numerous times and then slap you in the face with realism and perspectives you’ve probably never seen before. Go check it out in theaters.