Review: “The Florida Project”


Promotional material for “The Florida Project.”

Calvin’s film arts committee held a screening of Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” in the CFAC Auditorium on Saturday, Feb. 3.

Recently receiving an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor (Willem Dafoe), “The Florida Project” depicts a group of impoverished and hidden homeless people living in Orlando, Florida — those who are often ignored by the media and general public.

The Magic Castle — where the film is set — exists just a few miles down the street from The Magic Kingdom. While close in distance, the two “palaces” couldn’t be more different. The Magic Castle, owned by stern yet caring manager named Bobby (Dafoe), is a safe-haven motel that exists for those who have nowhere else to live — people who have the stigma of being squatters or white trash.

This is where six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) live. Halley had Moonee at a young age and has struggled to provide for her since. She doesn’t have a reliable source of income, so paying the $38 weekly rent is a never-ending struggle.

Moonee, however, is rarely fazed by any of that. Despite her poor living situation and the fact that Halley may not be the most responsible parent, it’s all Moonee has ever known. She spends her days hanging out with her friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto), living in a state of blissful childhood ignorance.

Yet, as the film progresses, we see that innocence slowly stripped away as Moonee becomes more aware of the world around her, and what that means for her future.

“[The film] made me feel kind of uncomfortable,” said Liam Lichti, a senior at Calvin. “That’s not a lifestyle I’m used to seeing at all. It depicted the reality that a lot of people have to go through. It helps me understand why some kids grow up to be certain people — just because of all they have to live through every day.”

In an effort to make “The Florida Project” as honest of a depiction of reality as possible, Baker cast multiple non-actors into the lead roles, many of whom came from a similar way of life as to the one depicted in the film. The movie is also completely shot on location in Orlando with a shoestring budget of only $2 million.

The result makes “The Florida Project” an unforgettable slice-of-life, coming-of-age film. Despite audiences having diverging opinions about the final thirty seconds of footage, “The Florida Project” manages to be both heartwarmingly funny — at least in the sense of how accurately Baker captured the way children act and speak — and devastatingly sad.

Baker never comes across as patronizing or condescending when approaching this subject matter. All of the characters are presented honestly and as three-dimensional. Despite Halley’s shortcomings, Baker shows time and again that she cares and loves for Moonee (echoed brilliantly in a scene that shows the two of them playing together in a rainstorm). The point isn’t to feel bad or to take pity on these people, it’s simply to understand them.

“I loved it because it’s one of the most human films I’ve ever seen, highlighting both the heavy and light of life without romanticizing anything,” said alumna Kendra Larsen ’17. “It doesn’t romanticize pain or hardship or joy. It just exists as part of the human condition.”

“The Florida Project” is still playing at Celebration! Cinema Woodland Mall.