Archive for December 1st, 2017

1st December
2017
written by Mad Cow

Rated R for language throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material.

Mad Cow’s rating: 3 ½ cowbells

I had the pleasure of seeing this movie with several friends and discussing it afterward. There was a range of opinions to say the least. I have digested what they said and may come up with several of their thoughts and not mine in this review. My apologies in advance.

Bria Vinaite & Brooklyn Prince

This is not a children’s movie although it’s certainly about children. Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) and her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) live in a motel in Orlando on a busy highway sporting all sorts of tourist attractions, including one featuring a huge orange roof and selling orange juice. We also see run-down and abandoned souvenir stores and, notably, abandoned housing. The visuals in the movie are colorful in addition to making a point. Most things we see are fairly tacky but then again these places make money. Tourists enjoy being tourists and that includes buying orange juice, souvenirs and ice cream from garish establishments, among other things. I have been just such a tourist.

The director Sean Baker almost certainly meant this film to be a social commentary. His other films have gone in that direction. He won the Independent Spirit Robert Altman award for Starlet, also about a young woman. His film Tangerine, about a transgender sex-worker, was filmed exclusively on three iPhone 5s’s. He wrote the screenplay to The Florida Project and Tangerine with Chris Bergoch. He is indeed an independent spirit.

Prince and Vinaite

Moonee and friends are free spirits and the most “real” children I’ve ever seen on screen. They run around everywhere, unrestrained and trying to find something amusing or interesting to do or look at. They reminded me of my childhood in the Bronx, although I probably lived in a “safer” neighborhood. But we too roamed everywhere at the age of seven, bothering shopkeepers and collecting pencils, paper, and cigar boxes in which to keep them.

Halley is a caring, if unschooled mother and her friend Ashley (Mela Murder) is there for comparison, since Ashley has a job and is stricter with her son Scooty (Christopher Rivera) than Halley is with Moonie. Without a back story, they are who they are and we can judge or not. Halley takes care of her daughter and finds fun things to do with Moonie and her friends. She tries hard to keep a roof over their heads by selling perfume on the street and increasingly dangerous things, against big odds. Maybe her personality can be included in those odds.

Willem Dafoe & Brooklyn Prince

Willem Dafoe renders a great performance as Bobby, manager of the motel where Moonie lives. Most of his tenants are ne’er-do-wells and his job isn’t easy but he is firm and kind. He likes the kids. It’s nice to see an ordinary guy in a movie about poor people. The mainstream sees poor neighborhoods almost exclusively as thugs and no-goods. Of course the no-goods are always there. Moonie, in elucidating who lives where, points to a door explaining that the occupant gets arrested a lot. Bobby is kind to the children and doesn’t demand sex for rent as many landlords in poor areas do.

A grandmother neighbor, Stacy (Josie Olivo), who lives in the next motel over, takes care of Moonie’s friend Jancey (Valeria Cotto) and a smaller sibling. She is also a contrast to Halley, although Jancey too runs all over the neighborhood with Moonie and Scooty. With my social worker background I knew immediately how Stacy was supported these children, quite legally. But this is a slice of life devoid of the academic explanation I could give which in actuality means nothing to the mainstream. Americans see what we see and decide who deserves help and who doesn’t.

Eventually the long arm of the law appears. I’d love to be able to say that the film’s social workers aren’t like actual social workers but these

   Christopher Rivera, Brooklyn Prince & Valeria Cotto

days little can be done to help people besides the grossest measures. And yes, social workers get into the mix and the movie asks us to decide whether Halley’s punishment for her crimes is justified. Punishment is available. Actual social services are not. Parenting and cooking classes and actual help with transportation and job search for jobs that pay a living wage are few and far between. This Florida community not only exists but is repeated across the country, as is, and back stories don’t often count in real life either.

The film’s performances are spectacular and the photography excellent. Some may object to too much footage of the children’s antics, but that’s a matter of taste. Brooklyn Prince as Moonie is terrific, adorable, and quite memorable. She’s a happy kid who almost glows. She also can curse and give the finger. She is precocious and amiable. I look forward to more performances from Prince. Rivera as Scooty and Cotto give outstanding performances. Vinaite too is perfect for the role, exuding a combination of responsible caring and immature behavior from a very young mother alone in the world.

The juxtaposition with Disney is not an accident. The “Florida Project” was the first name given to Disney World before it was built, probably as a place holder for its final name. We see the “inside” in the final seconds, in case anyone is in doubt. (The final footage was taken within Disney World on a cell phone camera without Disney’s permission.) A friend thinks that the comparison is about money and it is of course. But there may be another message. Disney, “the happiest place on earth,” as the slogan goes, is a place to be envied for its happiness. But nobody can live there.

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