Blog Directory CineVerse: It takes a village

It takes a village

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Is it possible to depict the life of children in a feature film without cloying themes and situations, overscripted dialogue, and implausible performances? The Florida Project by director Sean Baker proves this is more than possible. Last week, CineVerse spent some quality time with this film and arrived at several key conclusions, detailed below (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here).

  • What did you find surprising, distinctive, noteworthy, curious, or satisfying about The Florida Project?
  • The film lacks a cohesive narrative, serving more as a succession of vignettes. Despite not having a conventional plot, the movie works as a penetrating study of characters, probing deep into fascinating personalities, especially the characters of Moonee, Halley, and Bobby.
  • This is one of the best feature films ever made about the formative childhood years, particularly thanks to the stupendous performances of the child actors, most notably Brooklyn Prince as Moonee, who was only six years old at the time of filming. Often, the movie feels less like a scripted fictional film than a documentary, thanks largely to the naturalistic acting of the kids, who seem to be given free rein here to simply be themselves and to shape the direction or dialogue of a given scene.
  • The contrast between the characters of Bobby and Halley is striking; the latter is a relatively carefree but angry, immature, and impudent young mother who is bailed out time and again by the eternally patient and kind motel manager, who goes out of his way to compensate for the flaws, failures, and misfortunes of Halley. While he is not a father figure and doesn’t spend any quality time with Moonee as such, Bobby is the glue keeping the mother and daughter from drifting swiftly toward disaster, until even that bond of safety inevitably breaks.
  • The filmmakers refrain from moralizing, shoehorning a message into the movie, or judging these characters. Instead, they create an impressionistic canvas that allows the viewer to form their own opinions and conclusions about these people.
    • Movie reviewer Wenlei Ma wrote: “The world captured by Baker’s lens is colourful and bright, despite its impoverished inhabitants, and he never judges or pities them for their choices, even if you might. Here is a movie that shows, not tells.”

Major themes

  • The resilience and fragility of children. Moonee and her young friends can impressively adapt to their disadvantaged financial situations and limiting environments and are amazingly street-smart, perceptive, and sturdy. But the volatile nature of their families and surroundings leaves them vulnerable to risks and sudden challenges, such as the possibility of being taken away from their parents.
    • The bent/tipped tree that Moonee admires is an apt metaphor here for the hardiness of kids and the ability to survive yet be at a disadvantage to other children and families.
  • It takes a village to raise a child. While Halley is fairly attentive to and initiates some happy experiences for her daughter, she is insufficient at being a responsible parent and providing a truly nurturing environment. We see several other adults fill in as surrogate parents of sorts to Moonee and the other youngsters on The Magic Castle motel property, including Bobby, Ashley, and Grandma Stacy. The Florida Project suggests that, especially for some disadvantaged communities, surrounding adults need to step up and help watch, safeguard, and care for neighborhood children.
    • Slant Magazine film credit Ed Gonzales wrote: “One take on the project of the film’s title is the unspoken social contract that binds these lives: the understanding that they’re in this life together, united in their love for their kids.”
  • Fantasy vs. reality. There’s a dark and often ignored realistic side to the fairytales we cherish. Adjacent to the wonderland that is Disney World in Orlando, there is a subculture of impoverished, underprivileged, and overlooked people who are barred from entry into The Magic Kingdom and instead have to settle for The Magic Castle motel.
  • Life is a series of unpredictable episodes, random events, and seemingly insignificant experiences that combine to shape and represent you. Every day for Moonee is different and unexpected to some extent, even though she and her mother have limited resources and finite terrain they can explore. This film posits that it’s often the small details and the minor slice of life experiences in life – especially in childhood – that are the most memorable and impactful.

Similar works

  • Small Change
  • Fish Tank
  • American Honey
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Room
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Shoplifters
  • Little Fugitive
  • Winter’s Bone
  • Bicycle Thieves and other works of Italian neorealism
  • Little Rascals/Our Gang shorts

Other films by Sean Baker

  • Take Out
  • Starlet
  • Tangerine
  • Red Rocket

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