A big hit at film festivals all over the world in 2017, THE FLORIDA PROJECT is the kind of small budget, feisty down-to-earth look at poverty as lived by people in the fringes of the city. THE FLORIDA PROJECT takes the audience into the projects around the huge Disney amusement park in Florida where the subjects stay in low income motels with names like Future Land and Magic Castle. The buildings are sadly painted in purple and pink making them look even cheaper and more pathetic.
Around these areas live 22-year-old Halley (Bria Vinaite), and her six-year-old daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince). Moonee is a spirited child who with her own ‘little’ gang create trouble around the area like spit-balling, entering forbidden roos or dilapidated buildings. At one point, Moonie and her friends set fire to a building nearby, while her mother Halley drags her daughter to see the fire, unaware that her daughter was the cause of it. “This is better than watching TV,” she remarks.
Many movies have successfully used adolescents to demonstrate trouble in the fringe communities. Clio Bernard’s THE SELFISH GIANT and Lynn Ramsey’s RATCATCHER are two British examples. But the FLORIDA PROJECT feels closer to Andrea Arnold’s AMERICAN HUSTLE which sees a young adult try to survive in the fringes. All are excellent films.
As energetic as THE FLORIDA PROJECT is, Baker’s film is not without faults. The one glaring one is his character of Halley. Halley is a cardboard stereotyped broke single mother, foul mouthed and mostly nasty. Unlike Baker’s other characters in the film, Haley is depicted with one type of behaviour and shows no variation or change. The film also opts for a happy ending where the two kids find themselves running into Disney World to enjoy their fantasies. The audience is expected to forget that Moonee was about to be taken away from her mother to a foster home. But the playing in the rain sequence shows that there is no need for expensive toys for Mooney to have a good time. There is one shot Baker shows of a factory outlet for Disney toys, a sorry second-hand fantasy land for the poor. The sign with mugs at 99 cents serve to highlight the fact.
As mischievous and naughty Moonee is, it is quite unbelievable that her mother Halley never gets mad at her. Their bonding is overdone, especially in the segment where the two play in the rain. Baker also avoids Halley finding out the truth that Moonee set fire to the buildings nearby.
Bobby (Defoe’s character), though only a supporting character brings very bit of the story together, He, the motel manager is totally aware of all the happenings, is stern or sympathetic when he has to be. His is a well-written role compare to that of Halley’s.
The film is also over-long a over two hours. Much of the mischief committed by the kids could be condensed, even though they are very laugh-out loud funny and bring amusement. One can likely see the reason director Baker kept these segments in the film.