THE FLORIDA PROJECT – A Review by Cynthia Flores
This movie is written and directed by one of my favorite new directors, Sean Baker. He’s the guy that brought us the hilarious Tangerine in 2015 – a film about a transitioning man into a woman just let out of jail for a minor offence during the holidays and who’s on the streets looking for her cheating boyfriend. This director has a way with telling relatable stories about outsiders. So, when I found out he was making a film revolving around a kid in Florida, I wasn’t sure what to expect. He delivers big time with The Florida Project. Which is perhaps the best movie I’ve seen starring lovable little brats in a very long while. I’m not talking overly precious or precocious kids that act and speak years older than they actually are. I’m talking about natural behaving kiddos around age six or seven doing stupid things little kids are apt to do when they’re bored and unattended. The foul mouths they have are learned from seeing and hearing their young mothers talk in a lower end kind of lifestyle. Add that to the fact that they’re poor and live week to week in an extended stay motel in Kissimmee, Florida just outside of the happiest place on earth, Disney World. They’re what’s called “hidden homeless”, the outcasts from society, unable to find work, forced to live in a shabby motel because no other place will take them. Still, the film shows how kids have the magical ability to make everyday an adventure, and even turn an open pasture of cows grazing into a safari. Don’t let the fact that this movie features kids make you think it’s a family film because it’s not. It is rated R for content and language. So leave the kids at home for this one.
I’ve never seen a film, from the first shot, get the abundant energy, giggling joy, and innocent rambunctiousness that being a loud kid is all about. The whole movie is set in the summer, when school is out, following around Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly), a lively six year old girl and her best friends Dicky (Aiden Malik), Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and ultimately Jancey (Valeria Cotto) who hang out around their motels. We see the story through their eyes mostly as they navigate a world mixed with tourist attractions, soft serve ice cream cones, and cramped motel living.
At the opening of the film, Dicky, Moonee, and Scooty run screaming around Dicky’s motel and get into trouble by having a spitting contest from the second floor walkway onto the car below. It is at once funny and gross. Then, when the owner of the car Grandma Stacy (Josie Olivo) catches them and confronts them, a shocking litany of profanity and attitude comes out of those sweet little faces towards her.
There’s no real malice in it all, just a bravado that mimics what they’ve seen at home. Grandma Stacy finds out from Dicky’s dad (Edward Pagan) where the other two kids live. So she talks to the put-upon manager of the Magic Castle Motel Bobby Hicks (Willem Dafoe) about what’s happened. Bobby is suntanned and skinny with a voice made hoarse from shouting all the time. Willem Dafoe, the only big name actor in this film plays him brilliantly as something between a father figure and a landlord for the motel’s tribe. He keeps the lights on, settles disputes, and hides any proof that the guests are actually residents. He actually cares for his tenants, and understands that they’re doing the best that they can under the circumstances. So, when he has to knock on the door of where he knows Moonee and Scooty are hiding out watching TV, he mediates between a very angry Grandma Stacy and Moonee’s mom Halley (Bria Vinaite), who is tattooed, pierced, and behaves like more of a belligerent teen than the adult she is supposed to be.
I won’t tell you everything that happens in this film because I want you to see it. I will tell you that it takes its time, showing a layered life of friendships between the kids as well as between their single moms. I like the way the films shows that in the same situation there are differences in parenting between the kids’ moms who are best friends. One is striving to get ahead by hard work, keeping an eye on her son, and not letting him get away with breaking the rules. The other is paying her bills by any means necessary, and too busy being her child's best friend to set down any real structure for her child.
The Florida Project may have one of the most jarring endings of a film that I’ve seen a in long while, you’ll talk and debate about it after the credits have rolled. I would have given the film a solid A+ rating because it’s such a masterfully told story about people we just don’t see on the big screen. However, because of the ending I’ll give it an A- instead. Any way you split it, this is an excellent movie, well worth the price.
Directed by Sean Baker
Selig Rating A-
Running Time 1hr 55min
Limited Release Friday, Oct 20th, Alamo Drafthouse Cedars, The Magnolia, and The Angelika Film Center Plano.
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto, Bria Vinaite
The Selig Rating Scale:
A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
B – Good movie
C – OK movie
D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.