The Florida Project
|The Florida Project|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Sean Baker|
|Music by||Lorne Balfe|
|Edited by||Sean Baker|
|Box office||$10.1 million|
The Florida Project is a 2017 American drama film directed by Sean Baker and written by Baker and Chris Bergoch. It stars Brooklynn Prince, Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, and Caleb Landry Jones. For many of the leading stars, including Vinaite, Cotto, Rivera, and Mela Murder, this was the first time they had acted in a movie. The plot follows a six-year-old girl living with her rebellious mother in a motel in Kissimmee, Florida as they try to stay out of trouble and make ends meet, so they may keep one step ahead of impending homelessness. The title is derived from the early name for Walt Disney World, located near the setting of the film.
The Florida Project premiered in the Directors' Fortnight section of the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, and was theatrically released in the United States on October 6, 2017, by A24. The film was praised for its direction and acting, particularly the performances of Prince and Dafoe. It was chosen by both the National Board of Review and American Film Institute as one of the top 10 films of the year. Dafoe earned Best Supporting Actor nominations at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and BAFTA Awards. Prince won the Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Young Performer.
Six-year-old Moonee lives with her young mother Halley in the Magic Castle, a motel in Kissimmee, Florida near Walt Disney World. She spends most of her summer days unsupervised with her motel-resident friends Scooty and Dicky, engaging in mischief, mooching from tourists, stealing, and other misbehavior. After the three children are caught spitting on a guest's car, Dicky's father restricts him from playing with Moonee and Scooty. While cleaning up the guest's car they had spat on, Moonee meets Jancey, a child living at the Futureland motel next door, and invites her to hang out with them. Later on, Dicky's family relocates to New Orleans, which saddens the group. Bobby, the manager of Magic Castle, is protective of the children.
Halley, struggling to pay rent, hawks perfume to tourists in hotel parking lots and asks Scooty's mother, Ashley, to steal food for them from the diner where she works. However, Ashley cuts contact after discovering Moonee, Scooty, and Jancey set an abandoned condominium on fire.
Halley begins offering her services online as a prostitute, closing Moonee in the bathroom when she has a client. When she steals a client's Disney resort passes to sell them, the man returns to demand them back; Bobby sees him off but applies restrictions on unregistered guests in her motel room and warns Halley that he will evict her if the prostitution continues.
Desperate, Halley approaches Ashley to apologize and ask for money. When Ashley mocks her for her prostitution, Halley beats her in front of Scooty. The next day, Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) arrive to investigate Halley. She cleans up the room and gives away her weed, but remains defiant. She takes Moonee to a resort hotel restaurant, where they charge the meal to a guest's room. When they return to the motel, DCF and the police are waiting to take Moonee into foster care pending investigation. Moonee runs away to find Jancey, and together they run away to the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World.
- Brooklynn Prince as Moonee, Halley's daughter, Scooty, Dicky and Jancey’s friend
- Bria Vinaite as Halley, Moonee's mother and Jancey and Ashley’s friend
- Willem Dafoe as Bobby Hicks, the manager of The Magic Castle Motel and Jack’s father
- Valeria Cotto as Jancey, Stacy's granddaughter and Moonee's new friend
- Mela Murder as Ashley, Scooty's mother and Halley's friend
- Christopher Rivera as Scooty, Ashley's son and Dicky’s and Moonee's close friend
- Aiden Malik as Dicky, a friend of Moonee and Scooty
- Caleb Landry Jones as Jack Hicks, Bobby's son
- Macon Blair as Tourist John
- Josie Olivo as Grandma Stacey, Jancey’s grandmother
- Edward "Punky" Pagan as Dicky's father
- Sandy Kane as Gloria
- Sabina Friedman-Seitz as Church Group Sarah
The Florida Project was shot on 35mm film and entirely on location in Osceola County, Florida. The film's fictional Magic Castle motel was shot at the existing Magic Castle Inn & Suites located on U.S. Highway 192 in Kissimmee, nearly six miles away from the Walt Disney World Resort.
Baker filmed the final scene at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom Park clandestinely, using an iPhone 6S Plus without Disney's knowledge. To maintain secrecy, the filming at the resort used only the bare minimum crew, including Baker, Bergoch, cinematographer Alexis Zabe, acting coach Samantha Quan, Cotto, Prince, and the girls' guardians. Baker intended the ending to be left up to audience interpretation: "We've been watching Moonee use her imagination and wonderment throughout the entire film to make the best of the situation she's in—she can't go to Disney's Animal Kingdom, so she goes to the 'safari' behind the motel and looks at cows; she goes to the abandoned condos because she can't go to the Haunted Mansion. And in the end, with this inevitable drama, this is me saying to the audience, 'If you want a happy ending, you're gonna have to go to that headspace of a kid because, here, that's the only way to achieve it."
The film had its world premiere at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival in the Directors Fortnight section on May 22, 2017. Shortly after, A24 acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film, which began a limited release in the U.S. on October 6, 2017. Lionsgate released the film on Blu-ray, DVD, and download.
The Florida Project received critical acclaim upon release, with most of the praise going to the direction and the performances of Prince and Dafoe. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Florida Project has an approval rating of 96% based on 260 reviews, with a weighted average of 8.8/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The Florida Project offers a colorfully empathetic look at an underrepresented part of the population that proves absorbing even as it raises sobering questions about modern America." On Metacritic, the film holds a weighted average score of 92 out of 100, based on 44 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post wrote that "Dafoe delivers his finest performance in recent memory, bringing to levelheaded, unsanctimonious life a character who offers a glimmer of hope and caring within a world markedly short on both." Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "It's film that'll make you wince at times, and you'll most likely not want to see twice, but seeing it once is an experience you'll not soon forget." However, Cassie da Costa of Film Comment criticized the film, writing, "Baker crudely renders his marginalized subjects because while he can imagine their daily realities he cannot fully fathom their inner lives."
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