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“Florida Project”

Pulling viewers’ heartstrings in a way that feels all too familiar


By Cheryl Bauder Staff Writer, Photos courtesy of Marc Schmidt

A image of a woman with blue hair, leaning on a wall and looking off to the side as a child clings onto her leg.

Indie films are increasingly making appearances on the big screen, at least in my life. “The Florida Project” premiered on Oct. 28 and the film was entertaining, heartbreaking and confusing all at once. It was definitely worth seeing.

The film explores adolescent innocence, but through the perspective of a child without an adult’s influence on the narrative, apart from one stern building manager. Little Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) lives in a Florida motel with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite), who is young and jobless. The motel is managed by Bobby (Willem Dafoe). Moonee has a network of friends who live in her complex, The Magic Castle, and the neighboring motels. They cause mayhem during their summer break, exploring the surrounding city and area around Disney World.

The kids spend their days playing games and going on small adventures, swearing and engaging in mischief, oblivious to their actions. That is the focus of the entire movie, documenting this blissful behavior despite the socioeconomic stress affecting their caregivers.

A woman pushing a cart with a child seated in it. The woman is sticking her tongue out at the camera.
Photo courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Moonee experiences things that the audience recognizes as very mature content, but she and the film suggest it’s just a part of her everyday life. The cursing, sneaking out for free food, twerking, taking of promiscuous photos of her mom for classified ads, all serve to rip away her innocence, but Moonee doesn’t know that. The only hint of an adult noticing any sign of corruption comes from Bobby when he throws a pervert off of the motel’s premises in protection of Moonee and her friends. At various points in the movie, Bobby acts as a shield between Halley’s adult world and Moonee’s innocence in subtle ways. This was interesting to see because it creatively reveals how meticulous indie films are with detail and cinematography, things that have often been overlooked in recent mainstream action movies.

Most people steer clear of indie movies because of the stigma that they are pretentious. In some cases, it’s also the inaccessibility for those who aren’t artistically inclined and the lack of presence in movie theaters. But, not much of “The Florida Project” is incomprehensible. It is relatable, even for those of us who didn’t grow up in a Florida motel. The film captures the nature of childhood, something that is close to home for anyone.

The film will have audiences warming up to Moonee in an instant; she’s loveable from beginning to end. The story is also raw and original. Neither the performances nor the settings feel forced. There is conflict in the beginning, middle, and end, and the plot is presented in a way that showcases the gifted cast’s ability to portray themselves in an organic environment. With its poignant outlook on childhood, “The Florida Project” and its vivid storytelling is something to be appreciated.