The Florida Project (2017)
Critic Consensus: The Florida Project offers a colorfully empathetic look at an underrepresented part of the population that proves absorbing even as it raises sobering questions about modern America.
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Critic Reviews for The Florida Project
It doesn't just show what its characters go through, it observes. It notices. It studies. This is a film that pays attention to the little details that communicate huge feelings.
The Florida Project, though, dances deftly around kitchen-sink realism and instead looks at this pastel world through the eyes of characters too young to know, or care, that they aren't rich.
[Director Sean Baker's] frantic depiction of Moonee's final fantasy verges on both brilliance and heartbreak.
It's one of the most effective, honest portraits of childhood you'll ever see, and a touching, poignant snapshot of American life in 2017.
You feel as if you've slipped inside of Moonee's enchanted world, while at the same time seeing the harsh reality of Halley's. That contrast is devastating, right up to a final sequence that's sure to break your heart in two.
Audience Reviews for The Florida Project
The Florida Project attempts to be an ambiguous indie classic, but instead is a montage of sequences that have no real context or substance with an ending that is an atrocity of filmmaking.
Director Sean Baker has become one of indie cinema's most probing, humanist voices for the outliers of our society. His previous films looked at aspiring adult film industry performers, transsexual prostitutes, and now with The Florida Project, an assortment of low-income and homeless families. The film has been buzzed about by critics for months and has started to pick up some serious awards traction. The film does an admirable job of illuminating a childhood on the fringes of society. I just wish it had done more. Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) is a young child living in a rundown motel miles from Disney World. Her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), relies chiefly upon hustling Disney tourists to make money. Bobby (Willem Dafoe) is the manager of the motel. He's sympathetic to the families turning their stays into homeless residency, but he also needs rules to be abided and rent money paid. He's concerned about Halley's choices and how they are impacting, and will impact, the life of her daughter. Over the course of a few weeks during the hot summer, Moonee's life will never be the same. The Florida Project is a slice-of-life drama from the perspective of a young child, and to that end it's quite immersive and empathetic. Little Moonee and her group of friends feel extensively real, so much that I wouldn't be surprised if director/co-writer Baker just turned on his camera and simply said, "Go," and sat back. Much of the movie, and perhaps even half, is watching Moonee and friends play, explore, and interact with a larger world that they don't fully understand. There are heavier realities kept at the peripheral. Moonee doesn't know that she and her friends are living in poverty. She doesn't know that her fun mom is actually an irresponsible parent. She doesn't know that the weird guy watching them play that Bobby forcefully removes is very likely a pedophile. She doesn't know the illegal activities of her mother to make ends meet. This limited perspective is also the same given to the audience. A mother/daughter photo session that seems innocuous and a little sweet is later revealed to have seedier ulterior motives. We follow Moonee on her jaunts to investigate the rundown neighborhood, and somehow in that missing time Halley has gained money for rent. It's not quite a whimsical, romanticized version of life in poverty like the misguided yet critically beloved Beasts of the Southern Wild. Instead, it's more a selective perspective that focuses on the innocence and imagination of children but without romanticizing the reality of poverty. It's like a different coming-of-age film where future versions of characters would look back and think about all the things they didn't know when they were just kids. Baker and his production do an excellent job of making you feel the day-to-day reality of modern poverty and the struggles of people to simply exist and without condemnation. Halley would be charitably described as a bad mom, and yet she finds ways to provide for her child even if they jeopardize her custody. Halley is far too immature to be responsible for another human being, but not all of the other women are that way. Other women in the purple motel find legal means to provide and they take a concerted interest in the well being of their children. Halley's adult friend is able to hold down a stable waitress job. Halley is too unruly, immature, and careless to do the same. Halley's last job was working as a stripper, though she never tries getting a job at what I have to assume are a plethora of competing strip clubs adjacent to the commercial Disney tourist empire. This is very much a visual document of systemic poverty that illuminates the hardscrabble lives of people on the fringes of society trying to stay afloat. It's rich in details like the knowing swapping of residents between local motels for one day a month to skip past residency declaration laws. It's an interesting hidden world that feels rarely given this kind of caring close-up. Baker has a great talent at finding non-actors who have great acting potential to essentially play versions of themselves. From Starlet, Tangerine, and now Florida Project, Baker has a tremendous gift for discovering people. There is an absence of mannered performance tics; the characters feel real because the actors are acting very naturally. These unsupervised kids are behaving like bratty kids. Brooklyn Prince is phenomenal as Moonee and a born performer. She has an innate charm that left me laughing often. Her improvisation is terrific although some of her lines definitely out themselves as being the written ones ("I can always tell when adults are about to cry"). Vinaite (Harmony Korine's upcoming Beach Bum) is aggravating and yet you still wish that at some point she would turn it around or come to some latent epiphany. Halley feels, infuriatingly, very authentic in every one of her moments. She is dooming her child to a comparable trapped life of limited appeal and escape, but she can't help herself and only focuses on the immediacy of life when life is so transitory and pessimistic. Dafoe (Murder on the Orient Express) is the moral center of the film and you feel his genuine unease in every pained glance. He has to hold his authority but he's still very sympathetic for the motel's collection of people that modern society has easily forgotten about. With that being said, I understood what Baker and The Florida Project was going for and I found it to be underwhelming because there wasn't much more than an established world. This is a movie with a very loose definition of plotting. After a while, without a better sense of plot momentum, it all starts to blend together into redundancy. It doesn't help when many of the scenes can be less than ten seconds long. Here's Moonee and her pal eating ice cream. Here's Moonee and her friend running in the rain. Here's Moonee and her friend hugging. Here's Moonee in the bathtub. It becomes a lower class triptych of establishing its world and mood, but a little goes a long way. All of that could have been established and sustained in the first act, and then the story could have launched into a greater sense of change. I may lose some hipster critic cred points but as it continued I was partly wishing that the movie had been more conventional. Perhaps Bobby becomes more involved in the life of Moonee, taking custody of her while her mother was missing or going through social services review. He's already a quasi-surrogate father figure so why not better explore that dynamic? The characters lack a depth to them, partially because we're following children just being children, partially because we have characters drifting through life. It's still lacking. This was another example of an indie film sacrificing character and story to the altar of realism. I wrote a similar complaint in my 2012 pan of Beasts: "But all of these setting details do not take the place of an involving story and characters we should care about. I felt sorry for the various residents and their lot in life, but I never felt attached to any of them. That's because they're bland and simplistically drawn, but also because Beasts doesn't bother to do anything else other than create its rich, tragic, harsh world. It's authentic all right, but what does all that authenticity have to add to genuine character work? Artistic authenticity is not always synonymous with telling a good story." Immersive and genuine, The Florida Project is awash in details for a way of life rarely given this much attention and empathy. The acting is very natural and the young children especially behave recognizably like young children. Keeping the perspective of the film attached to the child is an interesting gamut as it keeps some of the harsher aspects of this world and the people from the same kind of direct exposure. It allows the film to have a degree of innocence without romanticizing poverty as some kind of fairy tale. It was a perfectly fine movie that I just happened to want more from, in particular a non-redundant story with more significant plot events and characters that felt multi-dimensional and developed over the engagement. I kept waiting for more and was simply left waiting. Even the symbolism of being on the outskirts of Disney World, the materialistic "happiest place on Earth," felt barely toyed with. The Florida Project is a good start to a good movie but it needed continued refinement and attention to be something more than an inquisitive magazine article brought to careful cinematic life. Nate's Grade: B-
The reviews that had been culminating over the past month for The Florida Project commanded my attention. That and the colorful, youthful, friendly poster. The Florida Project is about childhood, and childhood is not always clear skies and rainbows like it's poster suggests. Moonee (played by Brooklynn Prince) is a 6-year-old girl living in a run down motel with her very young mother Halley (played by Bria Vinaite). Moonee and her friends run loose and stir up trouble left and right, only to be thwarted by the hotel manager Bobby (played by Willem Dafoe). Bobby casts a paternal shadow over the hotel, particularly on Halley and and Moonee. Dafoe is one of the few recognizable actors in this film, and he's true to the character and his desire to give the love he has to his guests. Director Sean Baker found Bria Vinaite on Instagram, and her performance is seemingly flawless. After further research, she's a natural fit for this character based on the lifestyle she displays on her Instagram pictures. This choice in casting is one of the key elements that will make the film a huge success come awards season, largely because Vinaite draws such a thin line between a character and a real person. This is an Oscar-worthy performance and easily one of the best so far this year... but the lifeline of this film is Brooklynn Prince as Moonee. Nothing will prepare you for the finale, where all emotions converge into one single take that is so hard-hitting, it'll turn you inside out. Prince is ignorant of the camera and crew; only her, the actors, and the motel are real. This is the most impressive performance ever given by a child captured on film, and it will turn you inside out. She's a natural born talent, and if she continues her career in the same caliber as this, she'll be a star. This is the first Sean Baker film I've seen, and I can't wait to dig into the rest of his filmography. Between his directing, his writing, his editing, and his ability to bring together such a perfect balance of actors into one package is an example of true artistry. The ending left me baffled, but in time I gave it thought and eventually found it to be revelatory. It brought me back to when I was a boy, when everything seemed so simple, not having a care in the world. I can't think of any other film that did that as well as this one did. The Florida Project is one of the best movies of the year, and if it reflects a taste of this coming awards season the year will close out in a spectacular fashion.
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