Movie Review: The Florida Project
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Brooklyn Prince, and Bria Vinaite
Plot: Unsupervised children living in a motel cause trouble for the manager
When people talk about movies that capture the seedy underbelly of capitalism, they are often talking about either the pussbucket suits controlling our lives or the middle managers who are taken down a peg or two and forced to live like the rest of us. It is not often that those same kinds of movies happen to shine a light on those that got left behind in the first place. Sean Baker seems to excel at these kinds of movies, specifically throwing the stories that never get told into the spotlight, like his previous movie, Tangerine, a kinetic look at the hectic lives of two LA transgender prostitutes.
The Florida Project definitely fits into that mold. Taking place in Orlando, FL, down the lonlier roads of kitschy tourist traps and beat-up motels trying to capture some Disney World visitor runoff. It’s not exactly the husk of an old mill town, but it is pretty damn close. One such motel with a fancy name is filled with mostly permanent residents, each with their own sob story I am sure. We only get to witness one, the one of Halley and her daughter, Moonee.
Halley isn’t necessarily too young to have be a mother, but she is definitely not ready for it. She is barely prepared to take care of herself. She talks with the slangy cutsey affectation of a webcam girl. Yelling “Worldstar” at a street fight sounds more natural in her cadence than any sign of affection she gives to Moonee. It sort of makes her inherently insufferable, and the world turns against her when she starts selling sex. Ironically, she was fired from her strip club job for not having sex for money in the private rooms, so she tells the unemployment office, but in a free market what’s for sale is always negotiable.
Moonee is closer to the heart of the movie. Her story is similar to that of Hushpuppy’s in Beasts of the Southern Wild taking place in a slightly more urban environment. Left to her own devices most of the time, the world is her playground. She begs for change at an ice cream parlor as if it is a game, runs around an abandoned condo complex, and hangs out by a tree she admires because it is still growing despite having fallen over. a pretty spot on metaphor for the corners of the US the have fallen on hard times.
Willem Dafoe is also in this movie as the humble and generous manager of the motel that Moonee and Halley stay in. And he is awesome. He will definitely be getting some award attention and deservedly so. He is just a genuinely nice guy who is trying to lend a helping hand when he can and only when appropriate, which is an interesting role for a charismatic character actor who is immediately recognizable as a villain.
Despite being fictional, the movie observes its subjects much like a documentary might. It offers no excuses, and it passes few judgments. Its only goal is to paint this portrait of a forgotten America, a portion of the country that is ironically suffering while in the shadow of one of the more ridiculously grand symbols of American success, the Magic Kingdom.