Whoops, looks like I didn’t get back to reviewing stuff as soon as I said I would. Anyway, it’s almost awards season so that means stuff that’s been playing at the festival circuit is making its way to theaters now; which is how I ended up seeing The Florida Project. I went into The Florida Project knowing nothing about it other than the synopsis and only hearing some light recommendations, and I came out of it with a lot to think about. It’s a very hard movie to recommend in any sort of appealing manner and I don’t know if it’s a movie you have to run out and see, but it’s my blog so we’re gonna talk about it anyway.
The Florida Project follows six-year old Moonee (newcomer Brooklyn Prince) and her mother Hayley (also newcomer Bria Vinaite) as they live out of a motel on the outskirts of DisneyWorld run by William Defoe’s character Bobby. If you’re expecting to be a big twist or hook or anything besides that, you probably don’t watch a lot of independent movies. The Florida Project is a very small, very slow-paced movie where not a lot actually happens, the stakes are very low, the characters aren’t very appealing, and no one really learns a whole lot by the end. That should be a recipe for an absolute slog of a movie no one but a masochist could reasonably enjoy, but The Florida Project is surprisingly watchable. This is a very well crafted movie with stellar performances, a good sense of humor, and a real understanding of its subject matter. And it’s this subject matter in particular that, I think, gives the movie its real value. It’s dealing with a facet of modern American culture that’s very underrepresented and deserves to be examined closely… Floridians.
No, sadly, this isn’t a shenanigans movie about ‘Florida Man’ or anything like that. (Though that in itself is a pretty good idea for a movie, too.) This is just a movie about Floridians; the kind of Florida people who get stuck living in a motel while unemployed. The Florida Project, above all else, is a scarily accurate depiction of today’s modern lower class environment and the people within it, and though the movie never becomes outright unpleasant or unwatchable, it’s every bit as existentially depressing as it should to be. Our main character Moonee is about as accurate of a portrayal of a six-year old as you’re likely to see onscreen; in that frankly she’s hyperactive, selfish, hasn’t developed a moral compass yet, and is rude to basically everyone, but it’s clearly just a reflection of the environment she’s being raised in. Similarly, her mother Hayley is an awful mother, awful friend, and all around awful person, but it’s clear she’s at least trying her best to make-it-up as she goes. No character in the movie is totally irredeemable, but none of their actions are to be condoned or celebrated. It’s clear that this movie accurately understands a lot of societal problems we, and the lower middle class of America especially, are facing in today’s day and age. Though the movie certainly views its events and characters with a sympathetic and sometimes humorous lens, as opposed to a condemning or mocking one, it never fetishizes or self-aggrandizes its subject matter. I find that’s a trap many movies fall into when portraying people with selfish and toxic behaviors. And if you think the ending cops out on its themes and commitment to not reveling in its own Bohemian drama, well you’re not entirely wrong, but I think it’s the ending the movie needed.
On top of that, there is a lot of purely technical stuff to recommend here either. The cinematography is frankly far more gorgeous than it has any right to be, the shot composition is wonderful and takes full advantage of every environment in terms of color and framing, and having the movie shot on location really adds a lot to the overall authenticity. Speaking as someone who lived in Florida for a summer, I can safely say this is pretty accurate to what Florida looks and feels like. Movies that are very location centric always tend to be more moody and visual heavy, but The Florida Project is a good example of how effective that can be. The performances are also all uniformly fantastic. Newcomers Brooklyn Prince and Bria Vinaite are great, William Defoe is great, and considering a lot of the other characters are also child actors, its a testament to their acting abilities that they all feel really believable. If there is one gripe I have with the movie, it’s that it’s just a bit too long for my taste, but it’s a small gripe overall.
I don’t know if anyone needs to run out and see The Florida Project as soon as possible. But if you’re interested in seeing a story about a subset of culture that’s typically underrepresented on film, I’d strongly recommend it. It might not be a movie that sticks around long enough in my head to talk more about at the end of the year, but I’m glad it came to my area and I hope more people check it out and see what they think.