THE FLORIDA PROJECT – AN ATTEMPT TO ROMANTICIZE A GROTESQUELY NEGLIGENT TEEN MOTHER

My sister, Wynne, reviewed The Florida Project so I didn't, as it turned out, have to endure it. She kindly has written a guest review for us. Here it is: 

The Florida Project 

SHORT TAKE: 

The movie, The Florida Project, follows a six year old girl, Moonee, who lives with her criminally negligent teenaged mother during a summer vacation. Moonee lives at the Magic Castle motel in a run down area near Disneyworld where the beleaguered motel manager tries to keep watch over everyone.  This is a very disturbing movie. 

LONG TAKE: 

Halley (Bria Vinaite – newcomer who director, Sean Baker, found in real life on an Instagram selling marijuana related merchandise), Moonee's mother, is a horrible person and six year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is one step behind her. Halley is a single mom who is lazy, does not have a legal job, has a terrible potty mouth, takes advantage of her only friends – Ashley (Mela Murder) and Bobby (Willem Dafoe), steals, and does not supervise her daughter's activities. Halley is a disgusting piece of humanity. 

Moonee is the leader of a small group of friends.  During the course of the movie these young children: spit on cars and people, burn down an abandoned building, curse and make obscene gestures, are rude and tell lies to get money for ice cream.  Moonee loses two friends over the course of the movie when their friends' parents realize what she is leading them to do. 

Moonee loses her friend, Dicky, after the spitting incident and Scooty, Ashley's son, after Ashley realizes her son and the other members of the "gang" started a fire at an abandoned condominium.  Moonee keeps one friend, Jancey. 

Reviewers characterized Halley as a mother struggling to support her daughter and describes Halley as poor and unfortunate. Far from the embattled single mom heroically trying to carve out a life for her daughter that they imply, Halley is an irresponsible, criminally negligent teenager.

Halley does not have a job doing legal activities but still manages to afford cigarettes and weed.  Instead of choosing a respectable job, like her friend Ashley who works as a waitress, Halley turns to prostitution.  Not only does Halley prostitute herself, but makes little effort to protect Moonee from her activities. Halley sends Moonee to take a bath while Halley "entertains" clients in the next room.  Now, you could argue, Halley did not want to leave Moonee alone while she "works", but Moonee runs the streets without supervision all day while Halley  lays in bed watching TV, listening to music and reading magazines. 

Halley does terrible things to people if they disagree with her. Halley gets her friend, Ashley, to steal food for her from the restaurant where Ashley works. But when Ashley does not want to steal food for Halley any more or give Halley rent money and confronts Halley about being a prostitute, Halley beats the snot out of Ashley.  

Haley gets angry with Bobby, the motel manager, and she … 

{Ed note: OK – GOTTA GIVE MY FIRST DISGUST WARNING HERE – but to provide the full expose of how demented this poor excuse for a mother is, it is fair to include this – but if you do not want to read it just be aware it's disgusting and skip down to where I mark that it is "SAFE NOW": 

…reaches into her panties and removes a used sanitary napkin and slaps it on the glass door.  Charming, and we are supposed to feel sorry for her terrible life.} 

SAFE NOW 

The movie throws in a few (what are supposed to be) warm and fuzzy mother-daughter moments: playing out in the rain, giving her daughter a ride in a STOLEN grocery cart, stealing and selling stolen items together, hitch hiking, making obscene gestures at people together, taking bikini selfies…… 

Dafoe's Bobby, the manager of the motel, is a kind, likable character.  He tries to keep the peace between the residents and the tourists.  Bobby keeps the place clean and repairs what's broken when needed. (Though what is truly broken in Halley he finds there is nothing he can do.)  He even watches out for the kids living there.  For example, he finds a strange middle age man hanging around the motel playground watching the little girls.  Bobby confronts the intruder, gets his name from the intruder's driver's license, threatens to call the police and tells him never to return. 

Eventually and predictably, the Florida Department of Children and Families show up with the police to remove Moonee and put her in foster care.  The case workers are shown to be somewhat incompetent.  Moonee escapes and runs to her friend, Jancey. The closing scene shows them running together to Disneyworld. You never know whether it was Ashley or Bobby who called DCF or if it was just in the natural course of events that Moonee's precarious situation came to their attention. 

When the credits roll you are left thinking: "WHAT?! Did I miss something??"  The ending is very abrupt and does not tell us what happens to Halley or Moonee.  It is left up to the audience's imagination.  After investing time and sitting through this emotionally gut wrenching movie, it is disappointing to not have a conclusion. An interview with the director reveals this was deliberate. Rather than coming up with a proper conclusion, the director/writer, Baker, decided to leave it up to the audience. Quoted from an interview Baker had with Ashley Lee for the Hollywood Reporter: "It's left up to interpretation but it's not supposed to be literal, it's supposed to be a moment in which we're putting the audience in the headspace of a child." However, Baker ignores the fact that this is a very disturbed child. The result is a very unsatisfying "resolution" to this already difficult to watch movie.

 

Obviously the director has an eye for finding new and underused talent.  Halley, played by Bria Vinaite, had never done anything in movies before but was very convincing as the self-destructive mother. Brooklynn Prince, as Moonee, is brand new also, but does well portraying the virtually abandoned child.  The ever brilliant but not often enough seen Willem Dafoe gives a strong quiet performance as the eye in this storm.  The three main characters give very convincing character portrayals of the troubled and those left to clean up behind them. Mr. Baker brought out the best in all three for this undeserving story. Perhaps Mr. Baker will put his talents to better use next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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