The Florida Project
The Florida Project is a 2017 American slice of life drama film directed by Sean Baker and written by Baker and Chris Bergoch. It stars Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, and Caleb Landry Jones. It was the first film appearance for many of the cast. The plot follows a six-year-old girl living with her unemployed single mother in a motel in Kissimmee, Florida, as they try to stay out of trouble and make ends meet, so they may keep ahead of impending homelessness. The hardship of their life in Kissimmee is contrasted with nearby Walt Disney World. The title of the film refers to the initial codename for Walt Disney World during its early planning stage.
|The Florida Project|
|Directed by||Sean Baker|
|Edited by||Sean Baker|
|Box office||$11.3 million|
The Florida Project premiered in the Directors' Fortnight section of the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, and was theatrically released in the United States on October 6, 2017, by A24. The film was praised for Baker's directing and the performances, particularly Prince and Dafoe's. It was chosen by both the National Board of Review and American Film Institute as one of the top 10 films of the year. Dafoe earned Best Supporting Actor nominations at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and BAFTA Awards. Prince won the Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Young Performer.
While Bergoch was visiting his mother in Orlando, he noticed a lot of children playing in motel parking lots. Baker has said that he has always been inspired by the Our Gang films because the characters "were actually living in poverty, but the focus was the joy of childhood, the humor that comes from watching and hearing children."
Six-year-old Moonee lives with her young single mother Halley in the Magic Castle, a motel in Kissimmee, Florida, near Walt Disney World. She spends most of her summer days unsupervised with her motel-resident friends Scooty and Dicky, engaging in mischief. Bobby, the manager of Magic Castle, is protective of the children. After the kids are caught spitting on a guest's car at Futureland, the motel next door, Dicky's father restricts him from playing with Moonee and Scooty for a week.
While cleaning up the car, they get to know its owner, Stacy and her granddaughter Jancey, who are living at Futureland. Jancey and Moonee become quick friends. Later on, Dicky's family relocates to New Orleans, which saddens the group, but Dicky's father gives Dicky's toys to the kids under the guise of having no more room in his car.
Moonee and Scooty come across a Brazilian tourist couple at night, who are on their honeymoon. The woman wanted to go to Walt Disney World for her honeymoon and the man's assistant mistakenly booked a room at the Magic Castle instead of Magic Kingdom. While watching the couple bicker about the misunderstanding, Moonee tells Scooty that she always knows when adults are about to cry.
Halley loses her job as an exotic dancer, which affects her eligibility for TANF benefits. She explains to the benefits officer that she was fired after refusing to have sex with clients at the strip club, but it is not seen as an extenuating circumstance. Unable to get a job at the diner and struggling to pay rent, Halley hawks perfume to tourists in hotel parking lots. Since the children are on summer vacation, she also babysits Scooty during the day in exchange for meals from Scooty's mother Ashley—who takes them from the diner where she works.
Halley does not keep a watchful enough eye on the children, even after a scolding from Bobby. Despite his regular work and trying to host his adult son, who occasionally comes to visit and help with work around the motel, Bobby tries to monitor the kids, but their mischief grows increasingly dangerous. They break into the motel's electrical room, causing a blackout. Bobby also catches, beats, and ejects a pedophile talking to the kids in the parking lot. When Ashley discovers that the kids had inadvertently burned down an abandoned condominium complex, she forbids Scooty from hanging out with Moonee, and cuts off her friendship (and meals) from Halley.
Needing money for food and rent, Halley begins soliciting sex work online, keeping Moonee in the bathroom with loud music when she has a client. When she steals a client's Disney resort passes to scalp them, the man returns to demand them back. Bobby scares him off, but restricts guests in her motel room and warns Halley that he will evict her if the prostitution continues. Desperate, Halley approaches Ashley to apologize and ask for money. When Ashley instead threatens her with violence, Halley attacks and beats her in front of Scooty. The next day, the DCF turn up at Halley's door to investigate her. She cleans up the room and gives away her weed but remains defiant. She takes Moonee to a resort hotel restaurant, where they charge the meal to a guest's room.
When they return to the motel, the DCF and the police are waiting to take Moonee into foster care pending investigation. Moonee says goodbye to Scooty, who lets slip that Moonee is going to a new family. Distraught, Moonee escapes the DCF to find Jancey, who, after seeing Moonee's shocking despair, takes her hand as the two run away to the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World.
- Brooklynn Prince as Moonee, a six-year-old girl
- Bria Vinaite as Halley, Moonee's mother
- Willem Dafoe as Bobby Hicks, the manager of The Magic Castle Motel
- Christopher Rivera as Scooty, Moonee's friend
- Mela Murder as Ashley, Scooty's mother
- Valeria Cotto as Jancey, Moonee's new friend
- Josie Olivo as Grandma Stacey, Jancey's grandmother
- Aiden Malik as Dicky, Moonee's friend who moves away
- Edward "Punky" Pagan as Dicky's father
- Caleb Landry Jones as Jack Hicks, Bobby's son
- Macon Blair as Tourist John
- Sandy Kane as Gloria
The Florida Project was shot on 35mm film and entirely on location in Osceola County, Florida. The film's fictional Magic Castle motel was shot at the existing Magic Castle Inn & Suites located on U.S. Highway 192 in Kissimmee, nearly six miles away from the Walt Disney World Resort, in the summer of 2016.
Baker filmed the final scene at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom Park clandestinely, using an iPhone 6S Plus without Disney's knowledge. To maintain secrecy, the filming at the resort used only the bare minimum crew, including Baker, Bergoch, cinematographer Alexis Zabe, acting coach Samantha Quan, Cotto, Prince, and the girls' guardians. Baker intended the ending to be left up to audience interpretation: "We've been watching Moonee use her imagination and wonderment throughout the entire film to make the best of the situation she's in—she can't go to Disney's Animal Kingdom, so she goes to the 'safari' behind the motel and looks at cows; she goes to the abandoned condos because she can't go to the Haunted Mansion. And in the end, with this inevitable drama, this is me saying to the audience, if you want a happy ending, you're gonna have to go to that headspace of a kid because, here, that's the only way to achieve it."
The film had its world premiere at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival in the Directors Fortnight section on May 22, 2017. Shortly after, A24 acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film, which began a limited release in the U.S. on October 6, 2017. Lionsgate released the film on Blu-ray, DVD, and download.
The Florida Project received critical acclaim upon release, with most of the praise going to the direction and the performances of Prince and Dafoe. On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, The Florida Project has an approval rating of 96% based on 313 reviews, with a weighted average of 8.8/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The Florida Project offers a colorfully empathetic look at an underrepresented part of the population that proves absorbing even as it raises sobering questions about modern America." On Metacritic, the film holds a weighted average score of 92 out of 100, based on 44 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post wrote that "Dafoe delivers his finest performance in recent memory, bringing to levelheaded, unsanctimonious life a character who offers a glimmer of hope and caring within a world markedly short on both." Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "It's film that'll make you wince at times, and you'll most likely not want to see twice, but seeing it once is an experience you'll not soon forget." However, Cassie da Costa of Film Comment criticized the film, writing, "Baker crudely renders his marginalized subjects because while he can imagine their daily realities he cannot fully fathom their inner lives."
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