director: Sean Baker
writers: Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch
starring: Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite and Willem Dafoe
released: 6 October 2017 (USA), 21 December 2017 (Australia & Greece), 15 March 2018 (Germany)
Films don't always follow a conventional narrative, sometimes they offer a slice of life experience which you bear witness to and form your own opinions on positively or negatively. This was the case with this film, until it reached a point that is questionable, but something you can still live with due to the rest of the package deal being so vivid and telling for how other people get by in life and how a parent's mistakes can have an everlasting effect on a child.
A young mother is trying to make ends meet while raising her little girl in a cheap motel complex in Florida. Things get difficult for them once she starts losing some of her income and desperation kicks in, leading her down the rabbit hole of illegality. Her young daughter without a real role model and authority figure roams wild around the complex making the motel's manager's life a living hell and also making the best out of being a kid with no strings attached.
This film had been the talk of the town this awards year with how much you "have to see it" and how "wonderful the performances are". Why the immediate craze for this film had been initially confusing, but after seeing it I started understanding why. Maybe still not to that level and for the eccentric praise particularly for its child star when a lot of people forgot of the mother character who unsurprisingly is the great star of the film herself and also the lovable Willem Dafoe who nicely fills out the film with his calm and orderly manner as the Motel Manager.
Overall, the film is handled exceptionally and when it comes to presenting the reality of how certain people live an impoverished life and how sometimes the reason they are in those situations aren't due to the mistakes of others, but their own is great and felt throughout the film. While at the same time its also the tale of children who quite the opposite, do have their fates etched in stone by the mistakes of others and in particularly their parents. Additionally, while I understand some of the criticism layed out at the film for many of the characters inappropriate behavior and that it may have went to the lengths of being more annoying than eye opening at times and to some inadvertently making it unwatchable, I would have to adamantly disagree and simply state your missing the point.
In all honesty, the biggest problems with the film is its title and its ending mostly because they possibly meant different things to the writers and director than what they seem to intend for us the audience to interpret. First, the title of the film 'the Florida Project' means nothing except a vague reference to the "Projects" or if you go to the IMDB trivia page and find out that it was the original name of Disney World. So should that mean anything to us? that Disney world once was something well intentioned, but turned out to be a fantasy get away from reality, because we can't face our issues as individuals in society or just because the ending SPOILERS happens to have the two young kids/protagonists run away there. Which by the way, was done in an amateur way with a slowed down frame rate that cuts from rest of the film's realistic tone and framing of events, while also its smart inter-cutting between the serious and intense adult drama and youth shenanigans. A missed opportunity from the filmmakers who chose to end it in such a dream like way that the raw lesson the kids were about to learn is lost and makes it seem as if their existence is still going to be encapsulated in a bubble until it all pops on them. Remember, it all depends on how you interpret it and enjoy the visual style chosen for the ending as well.
By stating all this, by and large we have bypassed the main plot, the characters and the look of the film and immediately jumped to the ending, which is inevitable after seeing the film and the odd juxtaposed feeling it leaves you. As the rest of the film, compared to the ending is more or less how dark life can get and how innocent children aren't aware how their parents actions can impact them short term or long term and put them on the same path of misery. Which shows that the most important lesson of this film and of parenting is that values matter and in the film the main mother character is more concerned with her own self-pleasure and primordial survival rather than building a child fortified with values, in order to survive in the cruel world that she is continuing to fuel. Her actions are of an immature individual that is unfit to be a moral and participating member of any community and that by the end of the film becomes a pariah from all the people she thought she could trust and call friends or even neighbors. With the only person willing to take her at the very end is her own daughter who has no concept of what consequences her future holds due to her irresponsible mother. This is by far the film's greatest accomplishment in showcasing how terrible a parent can make it for a kid when one person decides to throw away hard work, dignity, self respect and a conscience and when they think its more important to blame the world for their problems and believe that rules and morals weren't meant for them and that there won't be any repercussions when you cease to follow them.
The innocence this film captures is almost perfect and is extremely close to how raw other films have portrayed youth gone wrong situations or the importance of parenting and roles models such as in 'Kids', 'The Pursuit of Happyness' and even 'Gran Torino'. However, there is an extra side to it and it is its clever mixture of silliness and jaw dropping drama which helps the film easily get a general audience crowd that most independent films would dream of having. Nonetheless, that ending did leave a bitter taste and who knows what might happen to the protagonists in the sequel.