I thought I was finished with 2017 films, but any film that involves mostly children that Matt Cale gushes over, certainly gets my attention. The Florida Project is a unique film created by Sean Baker of Tangerine fame. This movie is about Americans who are on the margin of a society of people who live paycheck to paycheck; only these are living day to day, if not hour to hour.
The Florida Project’s setting was in Kissimmee, Florida, just outside of Orlando. This was only a helicopter’s ride from the iconic Disney World. More specifically it was at a seedy motel, the Magic Castle, a $35 a night joint that was the last stop before homelessness for many. Its bright, lavender colors masked the struggles within its walls. The Magic Castle was only utilized by misdirected or budget-seeking tourists, and other, more permanent residents who had tragically lost their way. These families were living in one room and were for the most part, desperate.
Mooney, a savvy and fearless 6-year old, was the star of the film. She and her single mom Halley were just trying to survive. Halley was just a kid herself and more like a big sister than a mom to Moonee. Moonee and her cronies ran mostly unsupervised around the motel and adjacent properties. Brooklyn Prince’s performance ranks up there with the very best child performances ever.
The shenanigans of her 2017 version of Our Gang ranged from harmless mischief and pan-handling for ice cream, to more serious behavior. Halley was a trash-talking, smoking and cursing machine of disrespect and resentment, even towards those who tried to help her. Because of these attributes, she was unable to procure conventional employment. She and Mooney were reduced to scrounging, panhandling, and accepting provisions from a food bank, or out the back door handouts from her girlfriend who waited tables at a nearby Waffle House.
There were other characters at these fleabag motels, but Bobby (Willem Dafoe) was the motel resident manager and the glue that held everything together. Bobby not only managed the property, but also its residents. He was a mentor, a surrogate father and grandfather, a mediator, buffer, and protector of already damaged souls. Bobby was especially protective to Halley and Mooney, in spite of Halley’s ingratitude. He even moved them around from room to room to get around the motel’s policy against permanent residence.
Dafoe was wonderful in this character and completely absorbed it. These people were his family. In one dramatic scene he showed how fiercely protective he was of the children as he roughly dispatched a creepy would-be sexual predator from the property. This performance got him an Academy Award nomination, no small feat for an indie film like this one, and what a film it was!
Sean Baker transformed a bleak and societal judgmental situation into a celebration of life. In spite of her neglectful ways, it was obvious that Halley deeply loved her daughter. They both made the best of a situation where eviction and visits from Child Protective Services were a constant threat. For such a bleak outlook, this movie was a joyous journey until the very end. The heartbreaking reality finally caught up with this fragile family. The Florida Project was not nominated, but it was one of the very best films of 2017 and gets a high score from me.
9.0/10.0 and Goatesians Seal of Approval for films about growing up
- “Do you know why this is my favorite tree? Because it’s tipped over, but still growing.” -Moonee
- “There! I’ve just taken you on a safari!” -Moonee to Jancey (looking at some random cows)
- “I can always tell when adults are about to cry” -Moonee
- “It’s only the first week of Summer and there’s already been a dead fish in the pool” -Bobby
- “We were performing a science experiment: We were trying to get it back alive” -Moonee
- “You just let her get away?” And I’m the one who is unfit? FUCK YOU! -Halley ( to CPS agents)
- “I’ve failed as a mother, Moonee (sarcastically) -Halley
- “Yeah, Mom, you’re a disgrace! (laughing) -Moonee
- “Can you give us some change, please? The doctor said we have asthma and we gotta eat ice cream right away.” -Moonee to Tourist
- “Here you go!” -Tourist (giving money to Moonee)