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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

The Florida Project

Excellent, Staggering & Sensational

Excellent, staggering, and sensational, The Florida Project is a humorous and heartfelt glimpse into the innocence of childhood. Set over the course of one summer, six-year-old Moonee (Continuous rising star Brooklyn Prince) lives with her single mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) at the Magic Castle, a budget motel near Disney World run by Bobby, (Willem Dafoe in an Oscar-nominated performance for Supporting Actor) the very watchful manager.

The Florida Project is not a film that relies on a big setup to get the story going. The characters are the story and they're all responsible for the film's realism. They're both the puppets and the puppeteers. Brooklyn Prince is a delightful ray of sunshine as The Florida Project’s tiny hero. Moonee is very peppy and mischievous. Sometimes, her sense of humor is predictably immature but she remains adorable and lovable all the way through. She's also quite resourceful for her age. She knows how to act adorable and use that to her advantage (Especially to get free ice cream which is just hilarious).

By the time circumstances get really dark, you're so invested in little Moonee that watching starts to become emotionally unbearable. Watching the end of The Florida Project is what I imagine it must be like to have bleach put in your eyes. By this point, it's the youthful innocence and spirit of Moonee and her generation that The Florida Project hangs onto for dear life. She really is the film's source of hope and light.

Willem Dafoe’s performance is exotically tender. Bobby is very protective of those who reside in his motel and he looks out for them as his own flesh and blood. He has a particular paternal investment towards Moonee and Halley. They often make his job difficult and you really see him try to remain patient with them even when he gets frustrated.

As unforgettably brilliant as Prince and Dafoe are, (And they really truly are) it's Bria Vinaite that left me starving for more. She's absolutely out of this world amazing. Halley is no stranger by the end of the film. She's like a family member in desperate need of help that mortally wounds you by not being able to give it. Halley is Moonee’s mother but she's extremely young (the very early 20s, I gather) so the relationship between them is like their sisters. Moonee’s father is not in the picture so each other is all they have. Even if he was, she'd definitely be the fun parent. She shines her charisma towards Moonee.

When Bobby complains to Halley about Moonee entering the utility room, she turns to her and sarcastically says with a moonbeam smile that morphs into laughter, “oh my god, this is unacceptable. I've failed as a mother Moonee, you've disgraced me”. “Yeah mom, you're a disgrace” Moonee playfully answers as Bobby sighs in defeat. Halley can't even pretend to be strict because she's just not that person and Moonee knows that. Halley’s still just a kid herself.

Halley soon loses her job as an exotic dancer very early in the film (for refusing to sleep with a client) and her struggles to find work remains an ongoing issue in The Florida Project. The scene where she visits the benefits eligibility office is infuriating. She tells the officer why she got fired and there's no reaction. As the summer drags on and things get harder, it's not rocket science to predict what Halley ends up selling to get money. Bobby soon finds out leading to a verbal confrontation between them.

By the time CPS gets involved, there's really no point in fighting anymore but that's just not how Halley operates. She's very foul-mouthed and she'll verbally attack anyone who dares make her already difficult life any harder. She's crossed a very dangerous line to keep her head above water and that line instantly rips in two, tangling her up in it. Vinaite portrays Halley as someone whose begging audiences to realize that Halley’s not a cliche, she's simply too many people out there. There are many scenes where Halley does things that may make audiences lose all sympathy with her but she never lost sympathy from me.

The look of fear on her face as she and Moonee are walking in the pink Florida sunset still haunts me. Perhaps I'm just too invested in Halley (Having rewatched her so many times) to see her as even partly responsible but to me, it's pretty simple: If you have the power to help someone like her who TRULY needs it and don't, what happens after is your fault. Sadly, those with power in The Florida Project don't feel the same way and all roads will lead to affliction.

The Florida Project is one of the most crucial films you could possibly watch right now. It's mesmerizing, truthful, flat out funny, moving, devastating, and completely original in every sense of the word.

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