Now this is a trailer that I’ve been seeing pop up pretty frequently. Not obnoxiously, thank God, but enough to keep my interest sparked. Why can’t all trailers do that?
The story looks like a pretty laid back one, mostly following a little girl and her constant wandering around the motel she lives in with her friends. Her mom is young and single, messed up, but probably a good person all things considered. Basically, just a bunch of little kids being little kids.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Brooklynn Prince (ROBO-DOG: AIRBORNE  and the upcoming MONSTERS AT LARGE ), Willem Dafoe (THE GREAT WALL , SPIDER-MAN 3 , SPEED 2: CRUISE CONTROL , and upcoming films MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS  and AQUAMAN ), and Bria Vinaite, making her feature film debut. Congrats, miss.
In support, we have Caleb Landry Jones (AMERICAN MADE , GET OUT , CONTRABAND , and the upcoming THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI ) and Valeria Cotto, making her feature film debut. Congrats, miss.
Now for the crew. Directing, editing, and co-writing is Sean Baker, known for TANGERINE (2015). Baker’s partner in pen is Chris Bergoch, also known for TANGERINE. Composing the score is Lorne Balfe, known for CHURCHILL (2017), PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR (2014), MEGAMIND (2010), and the upcoming films GEOSTORM (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is Alexis Zabe, known for music videos and other unknown stuff.
Overall, I think this is going to be a pretty cute movie. I don’t know if I should expect high drama, but I am expecting something pretty damn good.
This is my honest opinion of: THE FLORIDA PROJECT
The story follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), who lives with her young single mom, Hailey (Bria Vinaite), in a cheap motel, managed by the well-meaning but stressed out Bobby (Willem Dafoe), each navigating their respective slice of life.
I was right. This is a small story about the life and times of a little girl and her mother and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
First off, if anyone ever told you that there’s no such thing as a good child actor, then you are entitled to do two things. 1) Slap that jerk upside the head, and 2) point them to this movie because Prince is an absolute knock-out. Okay, granted, Moonee’s not exactly a deep philosophical role or anything, but if you wanted to believe that a kid was just being a kid, then Prince will win your heart like crazy. She’s got a mouth on her, and I don’t just mean she’s sassy, but she curses. As in, there’s a reason why this movie is rated R. She’s gross, she’s weird, she’s funny, she’s annoying, she’s rude, all in the right ways that culminates into a charming and likable little girl.
But there’s also a subtle hint of tragedy in the character. While the ending leaves her future ambiguous, it’s easy to believe that Moonee won’t grow up to be a well-adjusted person. Her mom Halley is about the biggest red flag in that department. While not necessarily a bad person, she’s not… good, either. She doesn’t follow simple rules, like no smoking in the motel rooms, and certainly makes choices that are beyond questionable. She takes cheap cosmetic supplies from this place and resells them to rich people, passing them off as top brand that she’s selling at a cheaper price than a retail store. Basically, scamming people to make money. But for all the food she buys, she still goes out partying, leaving her kid all alone to get into who knows what kind of trouble, and has even solicited herself on Craigslist, sexual favors for money. She’s way past irresponsible and I doubt I could list all the ways in which she is. While it’s undeniable that she’s a bad mom, it’s also hard to completely hate her because she is just a product of her environment. You never get the complete sense that she does anything bad for the sake of being a bad person, but rather she is trying to provide for her daughter and doing it in the only way she knows how. While it’s never quite explained why she doesn’t look for a steady job, again, she’s just trying to get by with what she has, even if we can guess that Moonee is likely an apple that won’t fall far from the tree. But of course, none of this would be believable if the actress didn’t feel authentic, and much like her in-movie daughter, Vinaite sells it like a pro.
And Dafoe. Well… I don’t know if I agree with the critics who say that this is one of his most moving roles, I agree that this is arguably one of his best roles. I see where people are coming from though. There’s a scene where a group of the local kids are playing in this grassy area near his motel. Then this old white guy walks up to them and starts suspiciously talking to the kids. Bobby sees this and pretty much suspects what the audience does: a pervert that’s probably going to try and convince one of them to come home with him and best not to think of the rest. But he confronts the man pretty nonchalantly and guides the old fart away from the kids. Of course, the old man, probably not with all his faculties, if you know what I mean, is giving excuses like he’s only at the motel to buy a soda, and while he’s trying to convince Bobby of this bullshit, he’s constantly trying to get out of Bobby’s subtle embrace and looking back at the kids, but Bobby’s having none of it. He guides the old man to the soda machine, gets a soda, then smacks the soda out of his hands and starts roughly and loudly telling the old man to leave and never come back. It’s beyond satisfying and cheer-worthy. I can understand if this is the scene that critics are referring to and I agree for the most part.
Here’s the thing, while this scene is more bad-ass than anything he’s done in a superhero movie, this scene is only one and I don’t recall another scene that showcased anything “moving” so to speak. He plays a regular guy, trying to keep his motel in order, getting along and not getting along with his tenants. He has scenes where he’s fun, funny, an asshole, but I think it’s just a very real performance, but not one that made me cry or anything. This isn’t a negative of the film, mind you, I just don’t agree with whoever said his performance is “moving.”
The performances are solid across the board. Young Cotto as Jancey is really sweet, and Rivera as Scooty is a lot of fun, so all the kids hold the movie up. The adults as well. Jones is a lot less annoying than his role in AMERICAN MADE, and Mela Murder as Ashley, the mother of one of Moonee’s friends, as well as being Halley’s friend herself, does pretty solid as well.
I think the closest thing to a complaint that I have is the ending. So Halley’s got some social workers who are about to take Moonee away, and Moonee runs to Jancey. At first, the moment’s got me. Moonee is crying, uncertain of what exactly is about to happen to her (though I could have done without the uncomfortable extended shot of holding on Moonee’s crying face), and Jancey, determined to help, grabs her wrist and they run away… to DisneyWorld. The shots we see are just the two girls bypassing security, lines, and running all the way to the Disney Castle. Umm… *raises my hand* Mister Baker! Mister Baker, pick me! Pick me, Mister Baker! I have questions!
As much as I don’t understand, or even really like final sixty seconds of the film, I can’t let that hamper the rest of the film. It’s raw, it’s real, it’s honest, it’s not a happy story, it’s not a sad story, it’s a story about life. The ups and downs of being a kid living like Moonee is. The core cast, Dafoe, Vinaite, and young Prince are all extraordinary, and as for both Vinaite and Prince, I would love to see these two in future projects and wish them a long, successful, safe, and happy career ahead of them, if acting is their pursuit. What can I say? I highly recommend this film. It’s smaller indie project, so it’s got a limited release, but if you can find it and this sounds like the type of movie that’s up your alley, then make time for it. It’s a wonderful end-of-summer flick.
My honest rating for THE FLORIDA PROJECT: 5/5