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The Florida Project: An Absorbing Film That Features A Fantastic Performance From Willem Dafoe

March 6, 2018

The Florida Project is a fantastic film that stays with you because it finds warmth and heart in a place that everyone avoids. I grew up on the west coast of Florida in a small town called Hudson that was more country than a tourist trap. I wasn’t in a situation like the kids in Florida Project but I do remember spending my days riding around on my bicycle through the empty streets and hanging out in the wooded areas around my house. I was basically a free-range kid and seeing the areas around Orlando that aren’t dominated by Disney felt very familiar to me. I would say two of the most authentic “Florida” movies are The Florida Project and Spring Breakers. They are completely different and Spring Breakers has a very heightened aesthetic but I love how they were able to shine a different light on spring break and Orlando.

The Florida Project focuses on the denizens of The Magic Castle Inn & Suites. The Inn is located just outside the Disney parks and is home to townies and the occasional very confused tourist. The Inn is run by the kindhearted yet stern Bobby Hicks (Willem Dafoe) who has to deal with a litany of issues due to the collection of people that make their home at the Inn, and the fact that it is summer and bored kids have nothing better to do than cause trouble and annoy him. The main character is a tiny six-year-old dynamo named Moonie (Brooklynn Prince) who spends her days spitting on cars, exploring abandoned homes, mooching free ice cream and hanging out with her friends. She lives with her single mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) in a one-bedroom hotel suite and is occasionally called into action to help her mom sell stolen cologne, Disney wristbands, and other tchotchkes that help them pay their weekly rent.

The many abandoned homes provide fun for the kids.

The beauty of The Florida Project is that Moonie is still young and doesn’t know she is poor or her mom is loving but incapable of holding down a job, and makes money in dubious and destructive ways. The world is open to her and the backwoods of Orlando provide her and her friends room to explore and be kids. I won’t say her behavior is good because her mom lets her get away with murder, however, since she is so young her actions aren’t malicious or mean. She is an unsupervised kid who is being a kid and I really liked that director Sean Baker (Tangerine) films her without judgment or snobbery. The Florida Project showcases a slice of life in a very tiny area of Florida and it feels organic, kind and real. There is no judgment aimed at the characters and in the end, they all come across as likable and broken people who show real love and compassion while still being incredibly messed up.

I wish he won the Oscar

My favorite part of The Florida Project is Willem Dafoe. His performance is all heart and as the film progresses you begin to like him more and more. I don’t know why he puts up with the 24/7 job but he does his best to look after the tenants while having the patience of a saint. It seems like he loves the Inn and feels like it’s his duty to fight a losing job in order to protect a few people. Whether it be getting rid of bedbugs, fixing the ice machine and keeping the little children safe from gross predators he is always working and always likable. I think it is my favorite performance of 2017 and I can’t think of the last time that I’ve liked a character more.

The Florida Project is a beautiful film that showcases a tiny slice of life in a massive city and I think it is a must watch.

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