The Florida Project : ‘Mumbai Film Festival’ Review
“The Florida Project” is about living in the moment. Even if the moments that follow may or may not be full of despair. It’s also about a film-maker who is interested in showing the other side of America. The one that is poor and has a short-lived life with the rent always on due. Which makes it almost unbelievable when he shows it with such magical purity that you can’t help but feel rainbows floating above your head.
This ain’t no fairytale even though its set 100 odd meters away from Disneyland. Residents of The Purple Homes are not the tourists who visit Disneyland. It no longer attunes to serving the rich who are here for a visit, which only makes the seldom visitors a victim of cash-flow for something as small as carrying a suitcase. It resides the low-brow-hard-to-make-money-to-make-ends-meet kind of people and Halley (Bria Vinaite) is one of them. An exotic dancer who is recently out of work is also a single mother to the mischievous Little Moonee (Brooklynn Prince). Unaware of her mother’s struggle to pay the rent, Little Moonee likes to get through her day doing her mere essentials which obviously involves having fun and falling into all kinds of troubles.
Her daily routine includes hanging around The Purple Kingdom, spitting a wad of spit on a car from the balcony just to see if she can beat her friends in the spit fight, roaming around the outskirts of the various pop-culture referring outlets just to get an ice cream among many other things. Little Moonee has become radically street-smart, possibly following the antiques of people around her especially her mother who is oblivious to the right ways of raising a kid. However, Writer/Director Sean Baker isn’t looking for you to sympathize with the little girl and how her innocence has gone under a repression due to her circumstances. He wants you to be Moonee and live her life that is in all one big adventure – each day, every day. In doing so, Baker packs an emotional gut-punch right when you think there was nothing powerful about this honest little film.
The Magic Castle hotel is run by Bobby (Willem Dafoe). He is one of those authoritarians who likes to have things right for his place of work. In doing so, he also occasionally shuns Halley for being a careless mother to Little Moonee whilst also somehow acting as the much-needed father figure to both of them. Bobby could easily tell Halley to leave the premises when he suspects a little foul-play in her ways to get the rent, but he tries his best to stay his course. Not because he likes the load of cash that he is offered by the owner but because he actually has a heart of gold. In a very subtle scene, we see him painting over the purple color of the walls of the hotel hoping for something to magically appear and change things for everyone around.
Sean Baker’s vision is not entirely concerned with the adults and their survival instincts until of course, it has to. Which makes his decision to see the world through the three children at its center a bold one. He induces his film with a kind of kind energy that flows through the head, heart, and mouth of the protagonist Moonee – who could very well carry the entire film on her little shoulders. They are so used to getting the leftovers from the restaurants that we rarely see them complaining. This doesn’t let us completely judge and knock-off Halley as the bad mother that she is. She isn’t a monster but is her way of dealing with her kid a right one? Baker doesn’t necessarily wish to investigate such questions and leaves it up to his little brilliantly observed pieces of life to do all the questioning.
Paying tribute to the 50’s show “The Little Rascals” and quite obviously to François Truffaut’s 1959 classic “The 400 Blows,” Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” wins your heart a thousand times over. Filled with innumerable instances of absolutely irresistible charm and magic, this moving film tries putting a dead fish into the water to see if it gets back to life. And trust me – IT DOES!