DIR: Sean Baker • WRI: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch • PRO: Sean Baker, Chris Bergoch, Kevin Chinoy, Andrew Duncan, Alex Saks, Francesca Silvestri, Shih-Ching Tsou • DOP: Alexis Zabe • ED: Sean Baker • DES: Stephonik Youth • MUS: Lorne Balfe • CAST: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera
Centring round the lives of hidden homeless families sheltering in a motel standing just a stone’s throw from Disneyland, The Florida Project juxtaposes two very different kingdoms. The first is Disneyland, ever-present via its ambiguous presence in conversation, a capitalist paradise where dreams come true if you can afford them to. The second is the Magic Castle budget hotel, a defiant purple landmark against the Florida skyline, where those who can’t afford their dreams seek refuge. Avoiding condescension in favour of humanisation, this juxtaposition allows The Florida Project to take a long, hard look at our dystopian capitalist society, filtered through the eyes of Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), a six year old who manages to find wonder and adventure, unaware of the delicate nature her and mother Halley’s (Bria Vinatie) living situation.
Run by the tired yet fatherly Bobby (Willem Defoe), the Magic Castle is both a playground for Moonee and her friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto), and a constant reminder of the systemically enforced nature of poverty. Single twenty-something Halley struggles to make enough to pay her weekly rent, resorting to selling knock-off perfume to tourists and escort work to support herself and her daughter. The unasked yet constantly present question threaded through the action of The Florida Project is why must people be forced to earn a living, by any means, when the system is so often stacked against us and structured in such a way that those in poverty never reach higher than just about scraping by. The little money Halley happens by goes towards keeping a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs, exposing the cycle of boredom and poverty innately tied to existing on a small and disproportionately disposable income. Social isolation is also portrayed via a lost middle-class couple exasperated distaste at the possibility of spending the night amongst the Magic Castle’s homeless residents, further demonising Halley and her daughter, and othering them in contrast to “normal” Americans.
Notions of friendship and reliability spike through the film, and as Halley and her close friend dramatically – and violently – fall out, Moonee and Jancey fall together in a triumphant celebration of young female friendship. Unattended in their adventures, the girls explore and grow as close companions; their relationship doesn’t rely on gendered expectations of young girls, and they share bursts of rough and tumble, as well as gentle moments of reflection. Their final and daring race towards the Magic Castle of Disneyland indicates a longing to escape, to break free from a system that holds them in aimless poverty and the fear of being taken into care.
All in all, The Florida Project is a film with an abundance of heart, one which highlights and commends relentless perseverance, but which recognises that it should not be needed; that the shiny, exciting aspects of capitalist life often work to hide its victims, thrown to the wayside and struggling to get by.
Sadhbh Ni Bhroin
15A (See IFCO for details)
The Florida Project is released 10th November 2017