Saturday, July 24, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Florida Project

The Florida Project
directed by Sean Baker
This is a bittersweet 2017 slice of life drama which oddly enough I just watched. Well. If you haven't seen it you should see it. 
It's probably the best film I've seen this year. 
Impressively many of the film's cast were inexperienced or first time actors. The Florida Project walks the same side of the street as Sunlight Jr. in that the director wants to teach us about poverty, homelessness, and some other critical related issues but this isn't a heavy handed didactic film. 
I think that people opposed to what I presume are the director's political leanings can watch this film and reach totally different conclusions. Baker doesn't beat anyone over the head with a point of view. You can watch this film and leave with all of your previous political or economic ideas intact or even strengthened by the events in this film. Or you can just enjoy it as an entertaining snapshot of how some people live. That's up to you.
Watching this movie I recalled that in her poem Nikki-Rosa, the poet Nikki Giovanni wrote that 
"if you become famous or something
they never talk about how happy you were to have your mother
all to yourself and
how good the water felt when you got your bath from one of those
big tubs that folk in chicago barbecue in "

This movie also reminded me that an older relative told me how excited he was as a young child when he traveled south with my paternal grandfather, grandfather, uncles and aunts. 
They would have roadside picnics. 
My relative thought that this was just the coolest thing. It wasn't until later that he understood that the roadside picnics were because of racial segregation. My grandfather couldn't take his family in to sit down at the local deli or restaurant. 
My point in mentioning those memories is that children are not necessarily aware of evil or hard times. 
In The Florida Project although poverty limits and warps the children's experiences, with few exceptions, they don't realize it. They live in joy. 
The story, such as it is, unfolds from a child's point of view. And I mean that physically and visually as much as narratively. The 35mm camera work is often shot from a low level, as a child would see the world. Adult faces are often unshown.
 
Moonee (
Brooklynn Prince) is a six year old girl who lives with her young twenty something single mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) in a dump motel, the Magic Castle, in Kissimmiee, Florida, not too far from DisneyWorld. It's the summer so Moonee isn't in school. She may never have been to school. Moonee spends her days hanging out with her similarly aged friends Scooty, Dicky and later Jancy. 
Their ideas of fun involve spitting on cars and traipsing around the motel and the area just generally getting into mischief. There is a strong Little Rascals vibe that runs through this movie. 
Halley is what you might call a free range mother. An unemployed stripper who has lost her eligibility for welfare benefits, Halley makes ends meet by hook or crook. 
Halley is supposed to watch Mooney and Mooney's friend Scooty during the day in exchange for Scooty's mother Ashley (Mela Murder) hooking them up with meals from the diner where she works. Ashley and Halley are friends.
The kindly motel manager Bobby (William Dafoe) watches over the local kids and tries everything within his power to cut Halley a break or steer her in the right direction when he can. 

This film captured childhood's joy and innocence as well as the chaos that follows when people have no rules, no plans, and no opportunities.
 
In some aspects Moonee is a budding jerk, a young cute pint sized jerk perhaps, but a jerk nonetheless. And that is on Halley, who has made and continues to make some bad decisions. Halley is passing on unfortunate behavior patterns to Moonee. 
Things that are cute or forgivable in a six year old are less so in an adult woman. Children are molded one way or another. Still, Halley loves Moonee very much. She will sacrifice to protect Moonee, even when Halley has no idea how to pay next week's rent. The film does not judge but merely shows that desperation and impoverishment hurt all of us, ultimately.
Children can find happiness in the simplest silly things, whether it's eating a strawberry and raspberry at the same time or going to the diner and ordering everything on the menu. 
They don't know the reasons behind why things happen and often they don't need to know. 
A parent's most important job is to protect their child and let the child know that he or she is safe. Halley tries to do this. Viewers though, unlike Moonee, can tell that darkness is gathering. Again, this was a great film. It feels real. It will make you think. Dafoe impresses. Dafoe was Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his work here.
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