The 400-Word Review: The Florida Project
By Sean Collier
October 18, 2017
That old storytelling adage, “show, don’t tell,” is frequently anathema in Hollywood. Fortunately, director Sean Baker — defiantly operating outside of the studio system — is a master of it.
In The Florida Project, we live with our protagonist — an irascible, precocious and preternaturally forlorn six-year-old named Moonee (Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) — as she reacts with humor, indifference and ignorance to the daily traumas and desperate realities of her daily life. The plot emerges slowly and carefully, in large part in the mind of the viewer; there is no moralizing, no guiding narration, no internal monologue here. Only a stark and distressing American reality writ in illustrative detail and grand metaphor.
Moonee lives with her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), in a central Florida motel ironically dubbed the Magic Castle. In appearance, it’s a half-hearted ode to the mid-century fantasy of the Sunshine State — a figurative knick knack shelf of Floridian leisure. In practice, it’s home to a cast of characters living hand-to-mouth at best; some are bizarre, others are broken.
Moonee tears throughout the motel’s grounds, as well as the territory of neighboring hotels and businesses, oblivious (or at least accustomed to) the meager circumstances of her life. Disney and the other theme parks loom over their lives like zeppelins, occasionally referenced but never referred to by name; the families vacationing all around them may as well be from another planet. (When Halley ends up with a family’s Disney passes, she gives no thought to taking Moonee, instead selling them to make rent; Moonee is thrilled at the influx of cash and seems to have given no thought to actually visiting the murine monolith down the street.)
Like Baker’s powerful Tangerine, The Florida Project’s charms make its moments of sorrow all the more poignant. As the walls start to close in on Halley and Mooney, only the hardest of hearts will be unable to empathize.
And so, as Hollywood demands reshoots and adds narration and generally makes absolutely sure that the audience — every audience, all around the world, in every language — knows exactly what’s going on, Baker has crafted a lovely movie which allows the viewer to find the story. Not only that — The Florida Project opens itself up to interpretation, allowing the viewer to find resonance and significance where they may. It’s a bold choice; fortunately, The Florida Project is utterly worthy of it.
My Rating: 10/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark