“The Florida project”, directed by Sean Baker, is a story about a single parent family, comprising mother Halley (Bria Vinaite), and daughter Moonee (Brooklyn Prince).
The movie has been praised as a sensitive, insightful, portrayal of a family on the edge of society, and in the process of falling off that edge.
Dependent on handouts from the local Pentecostal church, Halley tries a little entrepreneurial ingenuity, selling knock-off perfumes and cosmetics to tourists visiting the nearby Disneyland.
Meanwhile, Moonee and her mother stay at one of the motels originally built to serve visitors to the Magic Kingdom, but now home to welfare claimants and the urban precariat.
As the rent demands mount up, Halley’s business skills are driven to selling her own body; a step which the character, early on in the film, vows she would never do.
The story, however, concentrates on Moonee and her rag-tag bunch of friends. During the long summer vacation from school, they roam around the assortment of run-down hotels along the strip.
Getting into scrapes, misbehaving, and cadging money from grown-ups, they present an apparently charming picture of rebellious scamps, enjoying the freedom of unsupervised time.
The reviews all celebrate this glorious depiction of childhood glee, as an affirmation of joy, of possibility, and happiness, even in the midst of looming disaster.
Nevertheless, even as the authorities arrive to arrest Halley, and put her child into care, hope is proffered, when Moonee escapes with her best friend, Jancey.
But, I left thinking this movie was tragic. And the tragedy is that neither director nor critics see it. The Florid Project is a superficial film, with a superficial analysis.
Instead of the subversive joy experienced by a cheeky child, I could only behold the unfolding tragedy, of an uncared-for, unloved, unsupported, little girl.
What has society come to, when we can’t see the disaster under our noses, but try desperately to find something positive hidden within the negative?
Yes, there is goodness in the children’s friendships, but it is against the unremitting backdrop of misery, and emiseration.
When Jancey rescues Moonee, the music changes, to joyful strains, as if this, finally, is the happy ending we’re waiting for.
But where does she lead her? Disneyland. The poster for the picture exhorts us to “find your own kingdom”. But where they flee, is the “Magic Kingdom”.
Refusing to delve down into either psychological or sociological analyses, it remains satisfied with the most superficial affirmation of childhood happiness ignorant of surrounding calamity.
Recently, I reviewed the Russian movie, “Loveless”, which I compared to “The Florida project”. I hadn’t seen “Florida yet”, but my feelings are even more intense now.
While “Loveless” possesses absolutely no redemption, Florida contains only fake redemption, in this country of fake news. It is deceitful, where the hopelessness of “Loveless” is at least honest.
With no note of critique, the only transcendent is an illusory one, succumbing to the lie which western culture holds out to its impoverished masses: the dream of Disney.
(Photos from twitter.com/floridaproject )