The Florida Project review: Feels like life
The mother-daughter scenes in this saga of visceral vignettes are alive and relatable
Friday 5 January 2018
The Florida Project
Willem Dafoe, Brooklyn Prince, Christopher Rivera
Close to Disneyland in Florida are subsidised residences once meant to serve as economical motels for tourists, now housing the impoverished section of American society, the fringe people whom President Donald Trump would not like to be put on camera for us to see.
But Trump didn't reckon he would have to deal with a film like The Florida Project.
Directed by Sean Baker, whose earlier credits include a film shot entirely on iPhone, The Florida Project takes us closer to these unbroken characters than we have been in any film in recent times. By the end of the emotionally enrapturing journey, I felt I knew the film's little heroine Moonee as though she was my next-door neighbour. And not just Moonee, played with exceptional empathy and zero precocity by seven-year-old Brooklyn Prince, but also her mother, her friends, and her friends' mothers.
Strangely, there are hardly any fathers around. The demography of destitution in the US is a saga of marital abandonment. Moonee's mother is a single woman, played by a non-professional actress Bria Vinaite, a sluttish but kind-hearted vagabond who cares for her daughter in her own twisted but heart-warming way.
The mother-daughter scenes in this saga of visceral vignettes are so alive and relatable, I felt I was intruding upon some very private moments of shared wackiness between a mother and her daughter; a daughter who is not unaware her mother's desperate situation in life.
But it's Moonee's adventures in the company of her two friends -- Scootey and Jancey ("What kind of a name is Jancey?" is Mooney's introductory line to her friend) that enraptures us in the way the two children in Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali did. As the three of them steal their way into ice-creams and hearts, the narrative opens its arms to these fringe people, inviting them to have their say in a film that celebrates their lives without romanticising their poverty.
Let me add that poverty in The Florida Project is very different from what we know. The people in Sean Baker's astonishing film get a decent roof over the heads and food on the table. And the vulnerable children running around in the open are protected by Bobby, the manager of the motel where the film is situated.
Bobby is played with wonderful wisdom and empathy by the seasoned Willem Dafoe. He is a guy who has to often do the dirty job. But he never forgets or forfeits his humanism.
Neither does this film forget to look at its bankrupt characters with anything less than unconditional respect and complete compassion. Never patronising, never cloying, never over-sweet The Florida Project is so heart-breaking because it doesn't make poverty a topic of tearful drama. The tears that well up in our eyes for Moonee and her friends are not manipulated by the narrative.
Dammit, the director isn't crying for these unvanquished souls. Then why are we?
The Florida Project review: 5 stars