'The Florida Project' is freaking magnificent

'The Florida Project' is freaking magnificent
Manipulated still from "The Florida Project"

This post has no spoilers, so it’s safe to read if you are still wondering whether or not to see The Florida Project. (Your answer is at the bottom of the page - keep reading!)

But this piece was written primarily for those who have seen the movie and are down with hearing me rave about its magnificence. Here goes:

I love Frances McDormand as much as the next self-respecting adult woman, but Frances should be grateful that young Brooklynn Prince wasn’t nominated for an Oscar.

Generally speaking, I can’t stand when children

  • A: act in TV/movies or
  • B: sing in country songs.

Rarely do either of those performances feel genuine, but Brooklyn Prince’s turn as hardscrabble young Moonee living with her struggling mother in an 'Off-off-Disney' motel is the rare exception. Maybe she's a phenom. Maybe she's still close enough to the seamless imagination of youth to pull off such a wildgritty role. Maybe she’s a one-hit wonder. Either way, her performance was inspired.

(Like, I MIGHT even be open to that hearing that precocious little child sing on a country track. Maybe.)

OSM the Florida Project

Manipulated still from The Florida Project

The Florida Project is movie magic.

Actress Bria Vinaite, who played Moonee’s Mom "Halley,"  was “discovered” on Instagram just…being.

So for those keeping track: director Sean Baker took a chance on a complete unknown (a woman who openly and unabashedly declared her love for blunts on her social media account) and a precocious child for this project. And it worked.

That is movie magic.

I will probably never watch The Shape of Water because I’ve already seen Splash and because it smells to me like canned Hollywood magic. I’m not new to the movie theater rodeo, and I have no doubt the movie is well made. I am positive the plot points are placed in the perfect order to trigger a “moving experience” in its viewers: a heartstrings science project.

But every once in a while a movie comes along that demands the question: “What the eff just happened? How did they do that?” (Kids and Hedwig and the Angry Inch are two that immediately come to mind)

After watching The Florida Project I had so many questions: How much of the kids’ dialogue was improvised? Who the hell was that strange actress with the white trash runway model prance? I don’t remember the Magic Castle from my time in Orlando: is that a real hotel?

I was so curious that I DID start to scour the internet to learn its tricks, but quickly kabashed my research project. Just as magic tricks are forever ruined once we know the secret behind the illusion, the Magic of the Castle began to dim as I started uncovering its secrets. God knows we need to protect any found magic in this day and age.

When you mix eggs, flour, butter, sugar, etc, you get something entirely new: cake. Sean Baker mixed together unconventional elements to create an entirely new movie cake. The Shape of Water was a boxed cake mix. The Florida Project was made from scratch.

OSM the Florida Project

Manipulated still from The Florida Project

This movie is not about what so many people are saying it’s about!

I’ve read so many threads/reviews that claim that this movie is a dissertation about poverty in America and I’ve been all like kuh-whut?

Poverty is to The Florida Project what high school was to The Breakfast Club: it’s the setting, not the takeaway. This movie isn’t about poverty.

This movie is about a mother’s love. Halley is a deeply flawed, deeply loving mother. Even when backed into a dangerous corner of her own making, she never takes her fears out on her young daughter. She is willing to do anything to preserve the innocence and freedom of Moonee’s childhood.

This movie is about a child’s superhuman ability to find magic in life regardless of the “real life” drama smoldering at the fringes of her experience. Call it imagination. Call it irresponsibility. Call it outrageous courage. Whatever you call it, it is inspiring to witness.

This movie is about creating empathy for folks who frankly don’t always deserve it. Then it rips our hearts out when an imperfect social service system misses the mark by trying to fix the symptoms instead of the cause, thereby perpetuating the cycle of dysfunction it claims to help. This movie is about the rage and frustration in a broken system.

This movie is about a hard-scrabble community clinging to its own to raise its youth.

This movie is about a man fighting the good fight in his little corner of the world - taking on a Herculean labor of love that comes with mountains of grey areas, wonky scales of good and evil, and a longing to atone for the unspoken, long broken things in his past.

This is a movie that probably started with a vision of the last scene. I think they shot it, fell in love with it, and couldn't let it go. Meh, but very forgivable.

And...poverty? I guess. Sure. But who doesn't know that poverty is an issue in America? This movie isn't some sort of a wake-up call I mean c'mon! Who doesn't know that the ‘ways out’ of the Magic Castles of the world - purple, black, or white - are either elusive, skull-crushing, or financially damning? For the few successful defectors, the final destination is rarely far from their original castle.

Manipulated still from The Florida Project

Manipulated still from The Florida Project

For me, The Florida Project is personal

The sights and sounds of The Florida Project triggered something primal in me: the ever-present song of the locusts in the trees, the green/brown palmetto leaves half trampled on the side of the road, the swampy grass yielding an ever-present threat of water moccasins, the cheesy tourist stands that could damn near get you high with their toxic mixture of ice-cold AC and airbrush fumes blasting you in the face when you opened their doors, a small bell announcing to the teenage cashier that a customer had arrived.

I was Moonee. Only instead of a struggling, rebellious Mother, I had two hard-working middle-class parents. Instead of an Orlando tourist strip, I roamed a military base.

But the differences stopped there. I, too, was an eternally messy little girl who found drama where there was none. Where there were odd, abandoned objects I found clues to unsolved mysteries. My wardrobe was whatever my hand grabbed from a drawer or the floor. My friends were ever only a door knock away from adventure. We could summon worlds at the drop of a wadded up snow cone paper. Adults were beacons of responsibility and perfunctory power, but only after the street lights came on.

Manipulated still from The Florida Project

Manipulated still from The Florida Project

The Florida Project transported me back to my early life in the Florida Panhandle, long before ideological differences blossomed and inserted themselves between me and my bestest buddies.

Watching this film brought me back to an experience that I now find hard to believe was ever mine. I will not reduce this bullet point to a cheap throwaway about reclaiming the innocence of youth because that would be crappy writing.

No. My days of youthful magic are where they are supposed to be - deep in the archives of my heart. But boy it was nice to have The Florida Project pull out an old film projector and show me who I once was.

Go see it, y’all.


That's my piece, and that's my peace. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my silly words. It truly means the world to me. Carry on...


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