The Florida Project

THE FLORIDA PROJECT. Starring: Brooklyn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe, Aiden Malik,  Valeria Cotto, and Christopher Rivera . Directed by Sean Baker. Rated MA 15+. Restricted.

(Strong coarse language).111 min.

This American drama is based on a screenplay written by Sean Baker and co-producer, Chris Bergoch. It tells the story of a young girl, who lives with her mother in Orlando on the fringes of Disney Land. It was chosen by the National al Board of Review as one of the top 10 movies of 2017, and won the Best Director Award from the New York Film Critics Circle for Sean Baker.

Six-year old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) lives with her stressed, young mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite) in a Florida Motel in the shadow of Disney Land which supplies cheap thrills for a price of a ticket. Life for Moonee (who has “too much fun”, the movie says), and her mother is full of tawdriness and poverty, and Moonee spends her life succumbing to adventure thrills to escape the hardship of life around her. She spends most of her days without supervision playing with her friends, Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Dicky (Aiden Matik), who live in the same motel - strikingly painted purple in Disney colours. The three invite Jancey (Valeria Cotto), who lives in the Motel next door - painted in another bright Disney colour - to come and play with them. The children play in an enticing world that protects them from the social ills and poverty that engulfs those, who are responsible for them.

The acting, direction, scripting and cinematography in this film are attuned cleverly to the emotions the film arouses. There are distinct layers of direction in the movie that are wonderfully creative. The children laugh and play against a background that hides the world from which they are escaping. The cinematography captures brilliantly the mood of the film in its looseness and flexibility.  Characters appear silhouetted against the purple doorways of Moonee’s motel (named “the purple place”) showing the group of under priveliged people Sean Baker seems most interested in taking about. Many are single black women left alone to care for their young children.

Halley, desperate to pay the rent she owes to Bobby (Willem Dafoe), who is the manager of her motel, offers sexual services on-line to cope. Child Protective Services show up to investigate Halley, and try to take Moonee into foster care. Distraught and confused, Moonee runs away to find Jancey, and together they escape to Disney World to hide among its crowds.

The film sensitively explores the lives of under privileged people in contemporary USA. It criticises welfare services for the poor in America, and argues against their victimisation. Moonee’s world of reckless adventure-seeking constantly supplies ironic comment on the plight of the marginalised. The movie has enormous compassion for the people it shows, and the Disney setting captures the misleading pleasure that can be too easily created for them in a consumer society.

The film is very authentic. The spontaneous naturalism of the acting is incredible, especially that of Brooklyn Prince as Moonee, Bria Vinaite as her mother struggling to survive, and Willem Defoe as the motel’s good natured, caring manager. It shows in a human way, the escapes that people seek, and the impossible nature of them as realistic choices. Sean Baker, the Director, has no solution to the problem he shows, but he depicts the world of the marginalised in an understanding and highly distinctive way. The style of the film is episodic in character, and it captures the meaning of the title of the film as a series of events that are “programs” aiming to show truth in what they are unfolding. In a tantalising way, the film indicates that life for some people is much better elsewhere, than life for them here and now.

This movie is a rare instance of American neorealism cinema, that reflects the social bite of the films of Italian Director’s of the 1940s, such as those of Visconti, De Sica, and Antonioni. Their films, and this film, feature children in roles that dramatically highlight the conditions of the marginalised. This is a creatively different movie of quality that is highly recommended for adult or mature teenage viewing.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Icon Films

Released mid-January, 2018

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