The Florida Project(2017) Review



Cast : Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe, Valeria Cotto, Mela Murder, Christopher Rivera
Director : Sean Baker
Genre : Drama
Synopsis : Set over one summer, the film follows precocious six-year-old Moonie as she courts mischief and adventure with her ragtag playmates and bonds with her rebellious but caring mother, all while living in the shadow of Walt Disney World. 

Indulge in Pure Cinematic Joy With This Dreamy Take on Childhood!

It's never been easy to slip under the skin of children, in order to tell their story, simply because as adults, we have lost the ability to see and think like children. Somewhere, within the deep recesses of our 'matured' mindset, there lies a file of all the things that could possibly go wrong. You will never encounter such a file in the mind of a child. I imagine the biggest challenge for any director would be to filter out his own perspective from that of the children. Having a film that manages to present a worldview entirely from the child's perspective does make for forceful and intimate cinema. Some films like most of the Disney ones joyfully enlarge our imagination. Then, there are film like Au Revoir Les Enfants(Goodbye, Children) that depict harsh realities through the eyes of its innocent children. Whenever I find myself watching the latter kind, I ask myself if the film forces me to reconsider my own certainties as an adult. 

Set in a sleepy suburban town on the outskirts of Disney World, The Florida Project offers us a sobering reflection of modern day America, an America where a large section of the society is unemployed, an America devoid of all the glam we have come to associate with it, and to be more specific, with Disney World. It is the kind of film that will make you recount those long sunny afternoons spent with friends as a kid, running in open fields, indulging in joyful mischief without a care in the world, and calling out crude names to unsuspecting strangers passing by. It's a film that is aimed at all adults and seeks to ignite the child in us once again. I for one had a wide smile plastered across my face throughout the film's entirety as I watched it's central character Moonie and her mischief monger friends indulging in their childish banter.  


Just to be clear, The Florida Project is a film about kids, but not for kids, for these kids are surrounded by grossly over-tattooed, foul-mouthed, unemployed parents who have no place of their own, and so have to set up their temporary residence in some motel for as long as they can, before moving on to the next. These are kids that are not born with a silver spoon in their mouth. They are most likely the children of illegal immigrants, drug addicts or probably the result of an unplanned teenage pregnancy. To those of us privileged lot, they are the vermin of the world, not too different from the children in Slumdog Millionaire(2008) or City of God(2002). And yet, they are perfectly content with making the most out of their meagre surroundings, because of how blissfully unaware they are of their true place in the world. 


Director Sean Baker extracts the best out of his young cast, most of whom have probably never faced the camera prior to this. There is such genuineness in each of the kid's charming performances that despite you wondering for almost the entire film what it is all actually about before a teary gut wrenching climax, you are so invested in each and every one of them. 

With her debut, the relatively unknown Bria Vinaite exudes confidence as she carries her role as Moonie's possibly underage mother with cheerful gusto. Overly tattooed, working as a part-time stripper, casually using expletives in front of her daughter, and going about her daily routine with a rebellious streak, she isn't exactly the kind of person you'd imagine as mommy-material. It is through her devil-may-care character that the director shows how society is quick to paint a picture whenever it spots someone who falls into their label of anti-social character. Sadly, the only character who doesn't judge her but sees her for what she really is, is her own daughter, and together, they get along like a house on fire, partners in crime.


Cast against type in a role that has earned him a Best Actor in a Supporting Role nominee at the Academy Awards, Willem Dafoe gives a career best performance. More famous for playing villainous or unstable characters, Willem is thoroughly likeable as he plays the sometimes stern, but mostly benevolent motel manager. Much of his performance is understated, and even though precious little is given out about his back-story, you do get the feeling that you're watching a man who has faced a lifetime of struggles.

Some viewers may find the open-ended climactic sequence frustrating. I on the other hand feel that director Sean Baker leaving the ending to be left to the audience's interpretation to be a wise decision. Throughout the film, we watch Moonie use her imagination and wonderment to make the best of the situation she's in. She can't go to the Animal Kingdom, so she sets out on a 'safari' behind the motel and looks at cows. She goes to abandoned condominiums because she doesn't have the money to go to the Haunted Mansion. And so, to find out whether or not the film has a happy ending, the director's intention is that the audience should get into the headspace of a kid.

They say that when a mother cries, it's like watching your favorite superhero getting defeated by the villain. They say that when a father cries, it's like watching watching a giant indomitable rock that you felt was always there since the dawn of time, crumbling. And when a child like Moonie cries, it's an agony beyond comprehension that contradicts the existence of a loving God.

I'm going with 4/5.

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