Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Movie Review: The Florida Project

A charming and moving depiction of poverty near one of the supposed happy places in the world. Disney World is nearby but Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) lives in a different realm. She hangs around an extended stay motel with her friend Scooty (Christopher Rivera). The Magic Castle is run by the friendly manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) who looks out for Moonee and her troubled mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). Moonee seeks out trouble spitting on a car of a resident in a neighboring motel where she meets Jancey (Valeria Cotto) who becomes a third member of their crew. Moonee shows Jancey all the fun places to go including the ice cream shop where they beg other parents and patrons for enough change to buy an ice cream. Halley, Moonee, and Scooty eat free food from Scooty's mom Ashley (Mela Murder). 

Moonee is allowed to run free and cause mischief while Halley struggles to find a job. Bobby continues to cover for Halley and steer pedophiles away from the group of kids playing around the motel. Halley comes up with scams to make money to continue to pay her weekly rent. Moonee, Scooty, and Jancey sneak into an abandoned apartment complex and Scooty uses a lighter to set fire to a pillow in the fireplace. The fire gets out of control and sets the whole complex on fire. Scooty acts suspiciously when he gets home so Ashley suspects he had something to do with the fire and decides that Scooty should not be running around under the influence of Moonee.

The rift between Ashley and Halley causes repercussions but Moonee continues to run around with her cheerful nature and her newer friend Jancey. They explore the area and hang around entertaining themselves with childish fascination at the simplest things and even extraordinary things like a rainbow. Bobby tries to keep the motel together asking his brother Jack (Caleb Landry Jones) to help him fix things up like a mattress infested with bugs or a broken ice machine. A familial controversy suggests some past history but the background of Bobby is never fleshed out. He does help Halley stay under the radar though he always demands the rent and prevents her from establishing residency by staying in one room for too long. 

Moonee remains ignorant as Halley continues to run scams buying cheap perfume and selling it at ritzier hotels and keeping Moonee in the bathtub while she has men over at night. Halley tries to mend the relationship with Ashley but she is insistent that Moonee stays away from Scooty. Halley grows angry when a tourist John (Macon Blair) returns after a night over to demand she return something she stole. Bobby helps her out once again. Ashley confronts Halley about her business when Halley tries to ask for help with the rent and Halley beats Ashley up. Her former friend calls Child Protective Services on her and they decide to take Moonee away. Distressed by the circumstances, Moonee runs to Jancey and the two of them escape into Disney World.

While the film is not strong on plot, it is full of awe-inspiring images of poverty juxtaposed with innocence and fun. Brooklynn Prince delivers an amazing performance at such a young age and deserves to be nominated in the best actress category. Dafoe and Vinaite are great in supporting roles adding an adult perspective to the childlike wonder that infiltrates a majority of the film. Sean Baker does an amazing job directing young kids and also managing to shoot the Orlando landscape with such a great style. The Florida Project will not be an easy movie to forget and says something profound about our country. 

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