The setting itself is an immense irony.
A few hundred meters from Disney World, supposedly the happiest place in the world if you can only afford it, is The Magic Castle, a cheap motel-turned-hovel for Florida’s working class. Within its purple-hued walls reside families that hardly have enough to pay their monthly rent, almost oblivious to their extravagant next-door neighbor.
Mother and daughter
Sean Baker’s The Florida Project centers on Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite).
We first see Moonee with her friends planning one of their daily pranks in an inconspicuous space in the hotel. They then proceed to another neighboring motel and start spitting on a newly-arrived car. Of course, the car’s owner gets furious and brings the kids to Bobby (Willem Dafoe), The Magic Castle’s stern but strangely compassionate manager, and assigns to punish them by cleaning the car.
The most interesting thing about this particular punishment is that Moonee and her friends hardly regard it as one, to the chagrin of the car’s owner who is incessantly complaining about how the chore shouldn’t be fun. By the end of that episode, Moonee befriends Jancey (Valeria Cotto), the car owner’s curious granddaughter and she becomes the fourth member of The Magic Castle’s motley gang, roaming the streets, scamming tourists for ice cream money, and committing random inconveniences.
Baker has created an exquisite portrait of youth here, one that exemplifies the fact that it isn’t innocence that defines the young, but their propensity for inconsequence. What makes The Florida Project hefty is how Baker translates that same propensity for inconsequence to Halley who seems to be as mischievous as her daughter, except that the extent of her mischief merits heftier penalties.
In Tangerine (2015), Baker exposes a side of Los Angeles that betrays the city’s reputation for glitz and glamor, detailing a day in the life of bickering transgender streetwalkers.
Here, he grants a spirited glimpse of souls on the fringe, humanizing humans who have been rendered voiceless by the homogenization of a certain image of prosperity. He skirts the convenience of draping his film in misery given that portrayals of poverty are often laced in gloom and anguish.
The Florida Project exalts its subjects by enveloping their stories with glee and cheer, allowing them fragments of precious dignity amidst their banality or ill choices forced by survival.
When the consequences that the vicious truths of the world sets in, the effect is undeniably stirring. Baker’s ability to pursue poignant but delicate emotions out of situations that seem bereft of artifice is very apparent here.
The last few minutes of The Florida Project are heartbreaking, even if Baker chooses to push his realist narrative down a conclusion that finally brings to the fore the escapist intents of the theme park, whose reach has always been invisible but felt throughout the film.
Color of human lives
The Florida Project is a film that shines because it decidedly goes against the grain, choosing to focus on the color of human lives than the shadows of their dire predicaments.
The film is vibrant, and while not exactly hopeful, it proposes that at the heart of even the most trapped of humans is a wayward innocence, or at least a memory of it. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass.
Since then, he's been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.