THE FLORIDA PROJECT
Director: Sean Baker
Screenwriter: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto, Bria Vinaite, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones, Macon Blair
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/27/17
Opens: October 6, 2017
If you want to see the type of person that many working class supporters of Donald Trump hate, this is the movie you’ve got to see. The principal character, or I should say the principal adult since the focus here is on children, is Halley (Bria Vinaite). She is a woman who depends on welfare yet makes money on the side by prostituting herself, by scamming guests in hotels near Disneyworld, by outright stealing. She curses up a storm, having little respect for anyone who challenges her way of life, and yet one may conclude that she is the kind of mother a six-year-old can love without complaints. She is the reason that Trump became President.
“The Florida Project,” directed by Sean Baker, whose “Tangerine” focuses on a working class girl who on Christmas Eve seeks the person who broke her heart, is in his métier—honing in on people who know that they’re invisible to polite society. However as future parents they did not prepare for a life of earning, they can sell nothing but their bodies at night while scamming people during the day.
Halley and her daughter Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) live in a budget motel outside Orlando. One look at the mom and you could guess that appearances do not deceive. Her blue-dyed hair virtually matches the purple door to the room. Her lower lip is adorned with a silver bead and her skin is covered with tattoos. She is more like a friend to her daughter than the little girl’s caretaker. For her part little Moonee has energy which, if harnessed, could light up the Magic Castle in Disneyworld. She spends the days with her friends Jancey (Valeria Cotto) and Scooty (Christopher Rivera). While on summer vacation from school they play pranks on the fellow residents, which include spitting on a car, and have kids’ conversations come across as wild improvisations. There are no beginnings, middles and ends to these youthful adventures, just a series of anecdotes that do not lead anywhere; at least not until child welfare forces intervene to find a place more acceptable to polite society for a kid to be raised.
Bobby (Willem Dafoe), the motel’s manager, regularly threatens to throw Halley out, whether for smoking in the room or not coming up with the $38/daily rent. But he has a soft spot in his heart for Moonee, and who, after all, could not? The six-year-old girl could be a sociopath in the making given the lack of discipline from her mother and her readiness to emulate Halley’s free-floating hostility, but right now she’s living large despite her mom’s lack of money and job security. Yet she does what she can to meet her mom’s approval, and in return she gets to go to a coffee shop and order waffles, strawberries, extra bacon and whatever else the place has on its breakfast specials.
The entire project could easily give the theater audience the feeling that the best years of their lives have passed, the days, weeks and months where a hike or a race with friends your age is aglow with natural beauty, and you can to say what you want and when you want to adults without fear of real punishment. The performances, especially by Brooklynn Prince, are wholly absorbing, the fast-moving cinematic project electrified with action. Director Baker, whose “Tangerine” was taken entirely on his i-phone, this time breaks out to afford a fully fleshed-out story of the energy, curiosity, and easy friendship that are ours during a time that parents do well to stay mostly out of the way, acting as leaders only when adult authorities compel them to do so.
Rated R. 115 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – A-