If there’s only one movie you see for the rest of the year, make it this one. It’s deeply moving and emotional, with gorgeous cinematography and breakout performances. Look for the Oscar nomination.
The Good: Every single thing. Performances, script, cinematography, editing, direction.
Every now and then, a movie leaves you awestruck. Speechless. Sitting in the seat after the credits have rolled, with the rest of the audience around you, frozen. It’s a rare thing. After 2016’s Moonlight, I was unsure I’d have that same feeling anytime soon. And yet, just a year later, is The Florida Project.
The performances across the board are nothing short of incredible. While one expects this from a veteran like Willem Dafoe (in one of the best performances of his career), newcomer Brooklynn Prince carries the entire feature practically on her own. And she’s 7 years old.
Prince plays the precocious Moonee with a depth that is far beyond her years. She inhabits and conveys the power dynamics shared with her costars. Most importantly, Prince feels natural. It’s a slice-of-life film that watches like a home movie.
The script is slow-burning, playing out like the lazy summer in which it takes place. It moves from character moment to moment, unafraid to wait for its leads. The editing and pacing move at a child’s pace. This allows for slow sequences of eating ice cream to intermix with quick cuts as days pass unnoticed.
There’s not enough room to cover the rest of what makes this film special. Even attempting to put it into words feels wrong, as though it cheapens the experience. Suffice it to say that this is a film about a little girl, and like the world she lives in, it is absolute magic. Director Sean Baker will get a nomination, you can bet on that.
The Bad: Nothing. Quite literally, nothing.
The Ugly: It noticeably does not put children in violent situations – and that’s terrifying.
Isn’t that strange? Perhaps a bit of a spoiler, but there’s not a moment of violence in this film toward children. And it was immediately noticeable. The children are not abused, physically or emotionally. They are not put into precarious situations that threaten their lives or mental well being.
The population of films that do portray harm to children is far, far larger. Name 5 movies you can think of with kids. Don’t think too much, just rattle them off quickly. Here was mine:
Temple of Doom, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, Stand By Me, The Room.
Every single one of these portrays children in danger of psychological or physical harm. Doesn’t mean they’re bad movies, but it does call into question how we view children in narratives. The Florida Project treats children as true protagonists. They are not vessels for an adult’s story; they are complete people, and their beliefs or actions, childish as the may be, are real.
Warm, winning, and gloriously alive, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is a deeply moving and unforgettably poignant look at childhood.
Set on a stretch of highway just outside the imagined utopia of Disney World, The Florida Project follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince in a stunning breakout turn) and her rebellious mother Halley (Bria Vinaite, another major discovery) over the course of a single summer. The two live week to week at “The Magic Castle,” a budget motel managed by Bobby (a career-best Willem Dafoe), whose stern exterior hides a deep reservoir of kindness and compassion.
Despite her harsh surroundings, the precocious and ebullient Moonee has no trouble making each day a celebration of life, her endless afternoons overflowing with mischief and grand adventure as she and her ragtag playmates—including Jancey, a new arrival to the area who quickly becomes Moonee’s best friend—fearlessly explore the utterly unique world into which they’ve been thrown. Unbeknownst to Moonee, however, her delicate fantasy is supported by the toil and sacrifice of Halley, who is forced to explore increasingly dangerous possibilities in order to provide for her daughter. – A24