Review: ‘The Florida Project’ is heartbreaking, hilarious, and incredibly humane


Courtesy of CU- Independent.

“The film is far from a joyless affair typical of Oscar dramas. It’s a vibrant, colorful experience with a sense of childlike wonder at every moment.”

Joe Cross, Staff Writer

Midway through Sean Baker’s new film “The Florida Project,” our protagonist, a 6-year-old girl named Moonee (played by Brooklynn Prince), takes one of her friends to a fallen tree she’s particularly fond of because it’s “tipped over but still growing.” It’s a throwaway line in the film, but also one that’s incredibly insightful to its message. Moonee and her mother, Halley, live week-to-week in a rundown motel just outside of Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom Park, but they aren’t entirely devoid of hope concerning a break in the cycle of poverty. Few films are as empathetic toward their subject as this one, creating a rare depiction of poverty that doesn’t glamorize or condescend the issue but instead shows the lengths people go to to make the best of their situation.

As a film about childhood, “The Florida Project” is a tremendous success. Moonie’s adventures with her friends in the motel have a candy-coated aesthetic and remarkably lifelike dialogue that will make you nostalgic for a time when your biggest concern was getting free ice cream and finding somewhere to cool down, no matter how old you are. What’s perhaps most amazing about this element of the film is just how lovingly it treats the children characters. The adults may occasionally talk down to the kids, but the film itself never makes them out to be anything less than the adults, showing that kids are complex human beings with real human emotions, desires, and fears. These kids may not grasp the full weight of their situation, but they still recognize that things are bound to get better one day– that there’s gold at the end of the rainbow over the motel.

Looking beyond the adventure elements, the film is a heartwrenching experience. We see images repeated for emotional effect, such as the kids sneaking free food from behind a diner. No matter how fantastical the kids’ adventures get, the film never lets you forget that their situation is dire and that if poverty can happen just outside what’s supposed to be “The Happiest Place on Earth,” it can happen anywhere.

That being said, the film is far from a joyless affair typical of Oscar dramas. It’s a vibrant, colorful experience with a sense of childlike wonder at every moment. There’s always something exciting, frightening, or both to be discovered nearby, and the film’s last two minutes offer a tremendous catharsis unlike any ending in recent memory.

It helps that every performance in the film is magnificent. Willem Dafoe does his best work to date in a long, outstanding career with a remarkably understated performance as Bobby, the manager of the motel. Through resigned expressions and sighs, he conveys the feeling of desperately wanting to provide a better life for those around him but being unable to. The performances from the children are also extremely lifelike, and at times it almost feels like watching a documentary.

It’s a testament to Sean Baker’s directorial skills that this movie is executed incredibly well because, on paper, it shouldn’t work at all. A film about precocious children living below the poverty line sounds like a formula for an out-of-touch, offensive disaster, and yet it works because it’s so much more. This is a film about doing your best to stay alive day to day, even if it means giving up everything you have left. Its undeniable humanity and compassion will leave a mark on anyone who views it, and for that alone, it’s a tremendous success.

To help struggling communities in Florida, visit