Film review: The Florida Project directed by Sean Baker

By Dean O’Donnell

“Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America.” – Walt Disney

Few things excite children more than the prospect of a trip to Disney World – that fantastical utopia populated by the characters of their most treasured films. It might seem peculiar that  writer/director Sean Baker’s meditation on childhood in contemporary America takes place in the shadows of the so-called ‘happiest place on earth.’ Yet upon watching, one finds it hard to imagine a more fitting location.

The Florida Project follows the lives of Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her daughter Moonee (Brooklyn Kimberly Prince), homeless and precariously residing in one of the many run-down motels in Orlando’s less glamorous outskirts. This not-so temporary home to some of the most marginalised sections of the working class is a far cry from Mickey and Minnie. Nevertheless, the mischievous Moonee and her like-minded friends Jancy and Scooty see no shortage of opportunity for adventure…or trouble.

Whether asking people for urgently required money to satiate their sweet tooths, (“The doctor says we have asthma and we gotta eat ice-cream right away!”), switching off the motel’s electricity or screaming at topless sunbathers, their hilarious antics provide the audience much needed comic relief. The inquisitive cinematography of Alexis Zabe allows us to experience this world through the eyes of a child tagging along with Monnee and her pals. Monotonous highways and tacky gift stores are transformed into exotic landscapes. They throb with colour and beg to be explored.

Unsurprisingly their acts of devilment regularly bring them into conflict with the motel’s manager and handyman, Bobby (Willem Dafoe).  Although in these instances he makes no effort to hide his frustration, beneath it all Bobby is deeply fond of Halley, Monnee and her gang. Dafoe’s expressions artfully depict a man powerless in the knowledge he can’t fix the residents’ broken lives, however much he wants to. Out of a seeming sense of duty he casts a watchful eye over the kids, doing all he can to keep them safe and sound in what he knows is a perilous world.

Yet this is no easy feat. Halley loses her job as a stripper. Making rent is never a certainty, barely attained through a range of illegal odd-jobs (involving her daughter), that gradually get more desperate. Those looking for a morally black or white personality will not find it in any of Baker’s characters. While we are gifted with some of the most gorgeous scenes in cinema’s history of a mother’s love for her daughter, we are also continually frustrated by her chaotic lifestyle that can only negatively impact Monnee. There is absolutely no doubt of her devotion to her child, but it’s also clear that she herself has never grown up.

The Florida Project delicately explores their lives by affording them dignity and revealing the systemic roots of their suffering. The elusive ‘American Dream’ and its ideal of childhood, epitomized by Disney World, is negated by Halley and Monnee who live on its margins, and yet couldn’t be further away.

Previous Article

The state & whistleblower scandal: A cesspit exposed

Next Article

1968- Year of revolution

Related Posts
Read More

Take the fight against austerity on to the political field

In the immediate period after the passing of the Property Tax registration deadline in May, and what for most areas could be months or even over a year before the installation of water meters takes place, there is a challenge facing all local campaigns which fought household and property taxes as to how to maintain themselves for the future battles.

Read More

The need for a united European response of workers against the attacks

joe_shell-1 Attacks on working people are mounting right across Europe. The so-called PIGS (Portugal, Ireland & Italy, Greece, Spain) countries have been to the forefront of these attacks. In Ireland, we have seen €7 billion of cutbacks, seriously damaging public services, including health and education. In Greece, there has been a 10% cut in wages and spending in the public sector, together with an increased retirement age, VAT increases and the freezing of pensions. Portugal has a plan to cut its deficit by €11bn over four years through a crisis tax on wages and cutbacks in public services. The Spanish Parliament has passed cutbacks worth €15bn on top of €50bn already agreed. Italy is due to implement "emergency-cutbacks" of €24 bn.

Read More

Smear campaign against socialist TDs

This week the tragedy that is mass unemployment was intensified further with the official rate rising to 14.9%, a total of 440,600 people and the highest since 1994. This week, also, the Troika is in town to make sure that the Irish people continue to wear the suffocating straitjacket of austerity in the interests of salvaging the fortunes of the failed property gamblers from the European financial markets. Last week a further €1.2 billion was paid out to unsecured bondholders.

Read More

Yes to Metro North

Two excellent public meetings organised by Clare Daly TD and the Socialist Party were held in Swords on the subject of saving Metro North. The working meetings have agreed to launch a cross-community campaign to save this vital project which will bring urgently needed jobs and infrastructure to thousands of people throughout North Dublin.