The Florida Project

Directed by Sean Baker who is best known for the 2015 independent film Tangerine, The Florida Project is a wonderfully crafted indie film that explores the largely unseen impoverished American population living in budget motels and the struggles that the adults go through while the children seem happy in the innocence of childhood. It is a fairly simple film that is more of an observant witness to the characters, predominantly a group of children, and follows their daily lives surrounded by what most people would describe as horrible living conditions. As emphasized by the movie’s title referring to the name used for Walt Disney World before it was built, the filmmaker points out the cruel irony of these innocent kids living in a rough neighborhood of Kissimmee, Florida next door to the fantastical Disney World, a place they can only dream of visiting. The main protagonist is a 6-year-old girl named Moonee, terrifically played by the charming young actress Brooklynn Prince, whose mother Halley is a troubled out-of-work single mother that goes to increasingly desperate lengths to financially support her daughter. The movie sentimentally depicts the rebellious young girl as she happily enjoys what she believes is a normal childhood playing with her group of friends and exploring her neighborhood full of run-down strip malls and motels, almost oblivious to her otherwise depressing situation. She even has a special relationship with the kind-hearted manager of her home The Magic Castle Motel, a gentle man with his own problems who becomes a father figure to the children living at the motel. Brilliantly played by Willem Dafoe in one of his best performances, the manager Bobby Hicks clearly has the kids’ best interests at heart, and he is often in the hard situation of cleaning up their parents’ messes, ranging from drug addiction to prostitution. Despite lacking a traditional plot line, the filmmaker is a master storyteller who is able to flesh out the characters through a series of small moments in their lives that add up to a powerfully empathetic portrayal of such a tragic yet hopeful underrepresented segment of our population. The audience viscerally experiences both the heartwarming and heartbreaking moments in these people’s lives: the children’s innocence lifts up our spirits while the adults’ daily challenges reminds us of the hardships of those living in poverty. Overall, I found it to be one of the best films of the year because of its captivating storytelling that feels very real and is able to illuminate a previously unexplored problem in today’s modern society in a sympathetic and non-condescending manner. 

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