Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 51 min.
Release Date: October 6th, 2017 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Sean Baker Actors: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Willem Dafoe, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Mela Murder, Caleb Landry Jones
ix-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) and Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Dicky (Aiden Malik) derive great entertainment out of journeying to nearby apartment complexes and causing trouble. Their first adventure is to climb to the second floor of the Futureland Inn and spit on a car parked beneath the railing. When they’re caught by the vehicle’s owner, maintenance manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) forces Moonee’s mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), over at the glaringly purple Magic Castle building, to right the wrong.
The youths have no manners or respect or concerns; but their behavior reflects the cavalier attitude and supervision – or lack thereof – provided by Halley and other guardians. These children are products of their environment. Into this world of improvised survival – which includes playing and mischief and begging and scamming – they drag Jancey (Valeria Cotto), a more conservative child who is about to gain some very bad influences. Their situation seems hopeless, exacerbated by extreme poverty, but the kids retain the cheerfulness of ignorance. In many ways, they’re making the best of a specific kind of misfortune – one they can’t hope to revise at their age.
As a substantial piece of social commentary, the Florida slum they inhabit resides on the outskirts of Disney’s Magic Kingdom – a ritzy, fantastical place just out of reach of these pitiable denizens. As they toil to subsist, thinking little beyond the close of the day or the end of the week, the film chronicles, virtually like a documentary, their meager existences – from eating ice cream to swimming to harassing various customers to pestering Bobby (a concerned yet mostly powerless figure). As the picture progresses, it seems as if there is no story; characters simply go about their routines, engaging in spontaneous yet modest activities.
Audiences will evaluate the personas based on their actions, but there are few details on how they ended up here, or where they’ll go after this brief episode stops (in a rather unsatisfactory way). Like “American Honey,” “The Florida Project” observes, without a discernible voice or bent or judgment, distinct people and places. It’s not attempting to push a narrative as much as it aims to highlight a subsection of society that rarely makes its way onto the big screen. Even when potentially frightening scenarios arise, they don’t come to purposeful conclusions, as if designed to intentionally avoid teaching lessons.
It’s so focused on exhibiting a snapshot of life that it refuses to impart writer/director Sean Baker’s analysis or solution. It might not be difficult to figure out what Baker is trying to say, but the absence of a story proper prevents any evolution of the characters – tragic or miraculous – which is detrimental to its cinematic potency. And while the start of “The Florida Project” follows the children, who are affected in fascinating ways by their surroundings, the end shifts toward the adults, who, whether or not possessing much genuine control over their situations and actions, are far less interesting.
– Mike Massie