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Movie Review | The Florida Project


Bobby (Willem Dafoe) and Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) in The Florida Project
 

Movie Summary: 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. (IMDb)


There are some films that take time to get into, and The Florida Project is definitely one of them, dropping you right into the lives of its young protagonists as they go around trying to fill their summer holiday with various activities to entertain themselves.


The film doesn’t bother setting the scene or bringing the audience up to speed, instead it’s up to you to keep up with a movie that at times seems as hyperactive and attention deficient as the children it follows.


And the young leads are certainly exceptional, none more so than Brooklynn Prince as Moonee, and the true star of the film. She gives a sensational performance that is as heart-wrenching as it is hilarious, acting adult-like in some ways, but never seeming anything other than a genuine child.


It’s worth pointing out that the children in this aren’t like the kids from South Park, swearing and saying controversial things – while the kids in The Florida Project do come out with some lines that seem adult, it’s more the nature of the words than the content.


Yes, they do say some things that push boundaries, but that’s part of what the film is showing – the kids do what they do because they don’t know where the boundaries are yet, or if they even exist. Everything they do is out of experimentation and playfulness, not because they’re nasty or spiteful.


There’s a commonly-held belief that children are more innocent than adults, and this film shows exactly how that should be interpreted; Moonee and company say and do things that would get adults in a lot of trouble, but that’s because the adults should know better.


That also goes for Moonee’s mother, played by Bria Vinaite in her debut role – another shocker, as you might keep trying to place where else you’ve seen her before because her performance is also so good you’d swear that she must have had other mainstream acting jobs before this.


Vinaite plays Halley, who – for lack of a better term – is a total screw-up. Like Moonee, she keeps pushing and sometimes charging straight past boundaries, but often comes across unlikable as a result, because she should know better.

Left to right: Christopher Rivera, Brooklynn Prince and Valeria Cotto in The Florida Project

It’s a great contrast between mother and daughter, who behave in very similar ways, but are viewed quite differently because of their ages and the expectations placed upon them. And while I found Halley to be repeatedly unlikable, it’s also made quite clear that she absolutely adores Moonee and would do literally anything to make her happy.


It’s a humanising note, but one of the few redeeming features of a character that just keeps sinking lower and lower as the film progresses, seriously testing the patience of the manager of the motel she has made her home, Bobby, played by an also excellent Willem Dafoe.


He also clearly likes Moonee a lot and gives Halley second, third, fourth and fifth chances, which she keeps wasting, purely because he knows how much the mother and daughter need each other. He’s stern, yet friendly, while also being protective yet practical – a fine knife-edge of a performance from a great actor.


It’s worth going back to the kids, and especially Moonee, once more though, because they are the heart and soul of the film, with every scene they are present in shot from their height so the audience is never looking down on them – a great visual effect from writer-director Sean Baker.


The only real shame is that I think the ending of the movie could prove quite divisive depending on the sort of person you are: on the one hand, it’s a nice moment of ultimate friendship and love mixed with hope, but on the other, the film was building to what looked like it was going to be incredibly painful to watch and ultimately both more memorable and realistic – how things end might feel like a bit of a cop-out.


The Florida Project ultimately proves to be an extremely enjoyable film with some excellent performances, but some people might find it difficult to watch with such an unlikable central character like Halley – but then again, you’re not supposed to love her, you’re supposed to love Moonee like she does, and you almost certainly will.

[8/10]

 
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