"Orlando I love you, Orlando Sea World and Disney and Putt-Putt Golfing"
- Elder Kevin Price, Book of Mormon
This is truly the most realistic Disney movie ever and Disney had no part in making this film.
So, yeah, I may be a little bit completely biased here. I spent a year living in Orlando and love that city with all my heart. I'm moving back in 2018, but after watching The Florida Project for a second time, I am ready to move back tomorrow! I appreciate that this film's title pays homage to the original working title of Walt Disney World before it opened in 1971. There was so much in this film that I recognized and love. Knock-off Disney gift shops, motels and restaurants I recognized, the Florida Orange Bird, Orange World Gift Shop, Twistee Treat, fireworks, and, of course, the film ended on the street that forever holds my heart. (Need a hint: look at the picture below).
The Florida Project isn't all fun and magic though; it's a really challenging film to watch as it shines a spotlight on the very real struggles of lower-class, single-parent families living in some of the extended-stay motels in the Orlando/Kissimmee area and living a childhood in the shadow of Walt Disney World knowing that being able to visit is simply a pipe dream. This film isn't so much a plot-driven film. As a matter of fact, it almost entirely lacks a plot. That's fine, however, because The Florida Project is 100% a masterpiece of humanist, character-driven filmmaking.
This cast is absolutely incredible. Caleb Landry Jones and Macon Blair have very small roles in this film that add very little to the film, but they do great with what they're given. Breakout stars Brooklynn Prince and Valeria Cotto play Moonee and Jancey, the two young girls we follow for most of the film. Bria Vinaite, whom Sean Baker discovered on Instagram of all places, debuts wonderfully in her performance as Halley, Moonee's mother. As good as they all were, Willem Dafoe stands above the rest of the cast in his Oscar-worthy performance as the motel manager, Bobby.
There is one scene in particular that is breathtakingly unforgettable because of Dafoe's performance. If you've seen The Florida Project already then you can probably guess what scene that is; it's the child predator scene featuring Carl Bradfield as one of the creepiest pedophiles I've ever seen in a movie or TV show. This scene is so powerful thanks to Dafoe's raw, emotional, and real performance. It didn't feel like I was watching a movie; I felt like I was watching a real-life pedophile get stopped by a real-life motel manager. Honestly, the scene restores my faith in humanity and makes me want to be like Bobby when I "grow up". That scene alone, even though his performance in the rest of the film is great too, is why Willem Dafoe has all of my votes for Best Supporting Actor this awards season.
If there's anything to nitpick in this film at all it's the ending. The ending is noticeably different in the way it's filmed, and I'll admit it is extremely jarring at first, but once I saw what was happening I was no longer bothered by the jarring and abrupt ending. Jancey grabs Moonee by the hand and the two run to the one place in town that they never stepped foot in and go into a big castle. The film's tagline is "Find your kingdom" and that's exactly what Moonee does at the end. Realistically, this wouldn't happen. These two young girls would not run all the way from the Magic Castle Inn to the Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World. That's approximately an 11-mile run through traffic, major highways, Disney parking lots, and theme park security. It's not a realistic ending, but it is a magical ending that I absolutely adore.
FINAL SCORE: 5/5 - (Masterpiece)
*All images belong to Sean Baker and the rest of the crew and studios that worked on The Florida Project.