The Florida Project Captures the Horrifying Magic that is Florida Life.
As someone who lives in Florida, I’ve often had people how lucky I am to live in the land of sunshine and anthropomorphic mice. However, I feel a bit of embarrassment living in the state known for the infamous “Florida Man” that graces news headlines from time to time. Luckily for me, the next time someone tells me how lucky I am to live here, I can kindly direct them to The Florida Project for them to see what the sunshine state is really all about.
The Florida Project is a slice of life film that focuses on a mother and child living in desolate poverty in the shadow of the most Magical Land on earth. The films stars relatively new actresses Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince as a mother and daughter struggling to survive week after week in a motel just south of Orange Blossom Trail, near the Magic Kingdom. To be honest, I have to say that these two deliver incredible performances because at the beginning of the film I had nothing but disdain for their characters. However, before it was through I couldn’t help being filled with compassion and empathy for them both. While the characters came a long way over the course of the movie, I still can’t say that I feel as though I actually like either of them.
It’s at this point that I feel the need to say that The Florida Project is not a feel-good movie. In fact, I felt like absolute garbage after it. Not because it was bad, but because it was so good I felt horrible that some people have lives like that. In that regard, director Sean Baker (who you might remember for the deeply impactful Tangerine, which was shot entirely on iPhones) does a hell of a job. This world that he creates feels so brutally honest, that it will tear at your heart in the best and worst possible ways.
While Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince might be the stars of the film, the entire cast is spectacular. Of them all though, I have to give a shout out to Willem Dafoe, who plays the office manager of the motel the two live in. Those renting the room refuse to make life easy for him and at first he comes across as a man tired of excuses and thoughtless behavior. Though it slowly becomes apparent that beneath his gruff exterior and Floridian tan, he actually cares a great deal about everyone there and tries his best to do right by them and protect them from their awful lives.
There is little doubt in my mind that The Florida Project will be honored consistently once award season rolls around. It’s a powerful film with a deeply impactful message about the terrible gap between the haves and the have-nots. Those who are comfortable in life tend to pass through the film giving the characters glimpses of what a life of privilege might look like. Whether it’s a couple angry that their assistant booked the wrong motel for their honeymoon or people the two protagonists scam at fancy resorts nearby, the gap is ever looming just out of sight. But The Florida Project is never preachy about it. Instead, it simply shows these things and refuses to make any conscious commentary about it. In a way, it reflects exactly how the privileged treat people like those portrayed in the film, it refuses to acknowledge them and simply passes right on by.
To put it simply, The Florida Project is not a feel-good movie, but it is an “all the feels” movie, which is something I find much more meaningful. Feeling good after a movie is easy. Reunite a boy with his dog. Let the guy and the girl end up together. Have Star-Lord do a dance routine. Truly emotionally connecting with a film though, even when you don’t want to is something only a masterful piece of filmmaking can do. So, if that’s what you’re looking for, then look no further, because The Florida Project is one of the best movies of the year.