Some of the best movies don’t tell a story which captures the biggest or most significant moments in a person’s life. Some movies focus on the more inconsequential parts of a person’s life; focusing on an hour, day or week that shapes a life without actually being of grand significance at that moment. The Florida Project does the same thing but with one summer and three key characters rather than just one.
Following the tenants of a motel in an impoverished part of Florida, The Florida Project is seen through the young but uncomfortably mature eyes of Moonee and her friends, as they vandalise, terrorise and alleviate a summer of boredom with the adults struggling to get by around them.
The realism on show here is the most compelling aspect of all. The events feel very true, from the struggles to pay rent week to week, the fallouts and loss of dependant friendships to how to work a system so that a single-woman has a place to sleep with her daughter. It can feel very uncomfortable to watch at times but only because this is clearly based on true experiences and there are people living these lives at this very moment.
It helps that the actors playing it are so convincing. This is probably due to their inexperience and lack of exposure in movies. The two central characters are a mother/daughter who live a gritty, difficult life and first time actresses Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince, as her daughter, play these roles perfectly. At times, The Florida Project feels much more like a documentary than it does a fiction and a lot of that is down to these authentic performances which feel so real it can be uncomfortable.
One of the aspects that takes you out of that realisation is that the manager of the motel is played by Hollywood superstar Willem Dafoe. It seems like a strange, quieter and more focused role for Dafoe to play. He tones back the craziness which has made him a much more famous character and the fine line he treads between sympathetic and authoritative is a good one. He is convincing and you are on his side, pushing for him to do the right thing.
Many of those opportunities arise. The Florida Project is a film of smaller moments rather than one large coherent thread. This is a typical summer for these characters and we are just eavesdropping on their lives. This can be equal parts fascinating and off-putting, as the movie lacks any real sense of direction and for some people, the lack of an obvious narrative can inhibit their enjoyment.
This film doesn’t need that clear narrative as it is one of performances, particularly the young children. Brooklynn Prince is the star of this movie and she manages to be both shockingly mature and sweet: from using vulgar language in one scene to playing innocently with dolls the next. It is a star-making performance.
Overall, The Florida Project is a snapshot of a life most would struggle to comprehend but it demonstrates the struggles well and is never less than captivating. The performances make the movie, particularly the young girl who holds the film on her shoulders and delivers a movie-stealing turn.
Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)