Review: The Florida Project | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: The Florida Project

Film Critic Todd Waugh Ambridge gives The Florida Project a perfect score, a must see film for fans of I, Daniel Blake

Last year, Ken Loach released I, Daniel Blake to critical acclaim for its emphatically real look at those the welfare system is (supposed to) support. It highlighted that often it is people – and not the state – who provide the social services required. Sean Baker – who calls Loach one of his heroes – takes this idea and runs with it, giving us The Florida Project, an indie film that succeeds on an even grander scale.

But The Florida Project isn’t your usual film. There’s not much narrative or structure to it, choosing instead to present grounded characters in a believable world. This world is The Magical Kingdom; a motel with a growing community of extended-stay guests managed by the stern but compassionate Bobby (Willem Dafoe).

The Florida Project isn’t your usual film, there's not much narrative or structure to it
We follow six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) and her two friends through their summer misadventures at the motel and its surroundings. Despite her childish naivety, however, Moonee comes face-to-face with the harsh reality of homelessness and the toll it takes on her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite).

Both Prince and Vinaite are newcomers to acting but excel here. Their characters’ mother-daughter relationship is the soul of the film, and is flawlessly authentic throughout and only enhanced by the roughness of their performances. The other child actors equally surprise: they land moments both humorous and distressing with incredible grace – and while they are often brash and irritating, you quickly remember that that’s precisely the point. Meanwhile, Baker utilises Dafoe to his fullest potential, utterly destroying his ‘quirky villain’ typecast. He will make you laugh and he will make you cry.

It can’t be hit home enough how real this film feels. The Florida Project is a character study about parenting, childhood innocence, societal divide and community – but none of it feels constructed.

The Florida Project is a character study about parenting, childhood innocence, societal divide and community – but none of it feels constructed
The sound of feet hit the floor as the kids run across the parking lot and the camera slowly widens to a shot of the motel with detail in every corner. Baker has placed shards of reality in every beat, and you can practically feel the intensity of the beating Florida sun. And on a story level, you will recognise these characters from all walks of life: the compassion they show each other is decidedly human, and their motivation and desperation is never melodramatic or farcical. It’s surprising to learn that none of this film is non-fiction.

The audience experiences the film from the perspective of Moonee and the other kids, learning information as they do and experiencing their confusion and distress. Sean Baker does this without us ever realising, and its effect is massive in that we don’t feel like an outsider looking in. Baker writes of The Florida Project, “Like in all my films, it’s important to be in the moment with these characters,” and there’s no better way of putting it. At one point, the residents of The Magical Kingdom see an abandoned condo engulfed in flames; they crowd around as if it were bonfire night, taking pictures and laughing. In the moment, the characters are alive, and that’s all they need to be.

Verdict: The Florida Project is touching, funny, heart-breaking and, most of all, alive. Its title comes from an original name for Florida’s Walt Disney World, and the parallels don’t stop there. This film asks and answers one question: if Disney World is the epitome of childhood fantasy, then what is next door?


Computer Science. Likes stuff and writing opinions on said stuff. (@tnttodda)


17th November 2017 at 12:05 pm

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