[Another great review by guest blogger: Bill Clark, award-winning photographer, printmaker, writer, political activist and proud grandfather of four wonderful grandchildren. See his first review: “Faces Places–A Journey of the Heart”, October 23, 2017]
My six-year-old granddaughter’s first e-mail complained that her older brother was telling everyone her “sekrids.” I wondered what kind of secrets a loved, well-cared for and healthy child could have. After viewing The Florida Project I now know secrets a child may have who lives in poverty near Orlando, Florida and Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The Florida Project is sad, funny, happy, heart-breaking and most of all, unforgettable.
Director Sean Baker deftly reveals the hidden world of six-year-old Moonee, the only child of her free-spirited single mom, Halley. They live in an extended-stay motel, the Magic Castle Inn, targeting low-income families.
Moonee (brilliantly played by Brooklynn Kimberly Prince) leads her pals Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valerie Cotto) through a series of adventures over the course of a summer – no summer camps for them. For example, they manage to cage money in front of a soft-serve ice cream joint so the three can share one ice cream cone. They thread their way through the garish souvenir stores that line strip malls along Seven Dwarfs Way until Moonee brings them to a pasture where cattle are grazing. “See! I brought you on a safari.”
Moonee takes her friend to a gigantic fallen cypress. Straddling the huge limbs, Moonee tells her friend a secret. “This is my favorite tree because it’s tipped over but keeps on growing.” This may be Moonee’s life.
Episodic without a traditional narrative arc, The Florida Project tracks the children from scene to scene demonstrating their resilience, independence, boredom and, occasionally, petty crimes. Moonee’s mother, Halley (a breakout performance by Bria Vinaite), loves Moonee, but unable to hold a job or manage her anger, Halley ultimately fails her young daughter.
Veteran actor Willem Dafoe plays Bobby, manager of the motel, who does his best to protect Moonee, and all the other impoverished residents. More the kindly innkeeper than harsh rule enforcer, Bobby desires to make the residents’ lives better, or at least bearable, as they live in abject poverty.
A beautiful ending sums up The Florida Project–an ending I won’t disclose.