Dir. Sean Baker
Reviewed by Matt Adcock (@Cleric20)
“The doctor says we have asthma and we gotta eat ice-cream right away!”
Welcome to the flip side of comfortable life, where poverty stalks every character and surviving is no mean feat – even when you live in the very shadow of Disneyland itself…
Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is a heavy duty treatise on the durability and joy of childhood, a soul-destroying expose of living on the edge and heart-breaking almost-romance that never could be.
I was blown away by this film which tells the tale of six-year-old Moonee (an epic and totally winning performance from Brooklynn Prince) who lives with her young mother Hailey (an incredible breakthrough performance from Bria Vinai who was approached to play her part after the Director spotted her on Instagram).
"life is not always explainable"
We get to hang out with this small family unit over the course of a few weeks of summer as they struggle to live their lives holed up in a seedy hotel called The Magic Castle. Fortunately for the two girls the hotel is managed by Bobby (Willem Dafoe whose probably never been better than he is here). Bobby is a genuinely good soul, a compassionate white knight who makes everyone’s lives better even though his consistent and selfless acts of kindness for Hailey are largely unappreciated and rebuffed.
Moonee has a ruthlessly mischievous streak, effortlessly courting trouble and generally having a good time even in a hopeless situation. Scamming tourists for ice cream money, spitting on cars and accidentally torching a local condo with her pals – this is a childhood of hard knocks but infused with an inescapable joy and freedom which is easy to get lost in.
As the kids play, danger lurks only a heartbeat away – be it the naivety of not understanding consequences or actual predatory adult intervention. Seeing the youngsters grappling with situations they cannot fully comprehend is emotionally draining such as when Hailey must sell their iPad to pay the rent and can’t really explain why.
"motherhood isn't easy"
The relationship between the world-weary Bobby and the hot-headed Hailey is shot through with a growing tension. Caught between wanting to protect Hailey like a father and yet still potentially be the man in her life, he’s a rare good guy in a bad world. But can he save her from herself as she slips down the poverty spiral into making heart breaking, self-destructive decisions.
The Florida Project is a powerful and vibrant film that will haunt you for days after seeing it. Wise beyond her years Moonee says things like: “I can always tell when adults are about to cry” when she observes some honeymooners who have inadvertently booked into the crappy Magic Kingdom thinking it was an actual part of the Disney resort.
But when life gets too much for our young heroine, all she can do is stand a cry in a scene which will just destroy you. The ending too is one of the bravest ever committed to film – just a superb few moments of unforgettable and mesmerising cinema.
"You're only young once"
I can’t recommend The Florida Project enough – it’s brutal and bleak but also engaging and wonderful in equal measure. Can’t wait to see not just what this director does next but all of the talent involved here.
Out of a potential 5, you have to go with a Darkmatters:
(5 - Save the Hailey, Save the world...)
Awesomeness ööööö – Joyful and poignant from start to end
Laughs ööö – Lots of fun but not a comedy
Horror ööö – Real life can break you
Spiritual Enlightenment ööö - Where is God when you need Him?