The Florida Project

Florida Man is a kind of mythical creature that stems from the perception that Floridians seem to get into the weirdest predicaments and commit the dumbest crimes. It’s become an internet meme, and there’s no shortage of evidence to support its existence. And if you are someone who believes in the existence of Florida Man, then The Florida Project won’t do anything to dissuade you from that belief.

The film features Willem Dafoe as Bobby, the manager of a very low-cost hotel in Florida not too far from Disney World. He’s a good guy who’s dedicated to his job, and probably the film’s best argument against the Florida Man stereotype, but he has to deal with a lot of crap. Some of it comes from the hotel’s hard-to-please owner, but the lion’s share comes from the customers. A hotel that only costs $38 a night tends to attract a certain type of “Florida Man” clientele, and Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her daughter Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) definitely qualify. Moonee runs around unsupervised all day with her friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto), scamming money from tourists, breaking into places they shouldn’t be, and getting into all kinds of trouble. But when Halley is supervising, things don’t go much differently. She’s much more a friend than a mom, and she’s the source of most of Moonee’s scamming skills. She’s been in trouble with the law in the past and really wants to avoid getting caught again, while also trying to scrape together enough money for the rent every week.

The Florida Project is a tremendous film that shines in just about every way. The performances are terrific across the board, and Dafoe sells a complicated role as ably as you’d expect from him, but Brooklyn Prince really comes through with something special that runs the gamut from pure delight in being an asshole to utter heartbreak and despair. The characters are all really well developed and seem very real, and here Dafoe’s Bobby is the shining example, where you start out with one perception of him and soon start to realize that it’s something very different, and yet the basis of your first impression is still valid and consistent with the more complete picture you have of him. It also helps that the story stays fresh by not always going where you expect, and by revealing information in a sneakily gradual manner so that things seem complete enough when you’re watching them unfold, but that take on new depth when additional details emerge.

But as good as it is, The Florida Project may not be for everyone. There are times without much in the way of plot, and the ending is kind of abrupt at a point when you’re looking for more resolution. It can be a very rewarding film, but it doesn’t always do things the way you’re used to, and there were people at the screening I attended who weren’t sure what to make of the ending. But I think that the more you reflect on the movie, the more likely it is that you’ll be impressed at what it’s able to accomplish without a lot of budget but with a whole lot of heart and talent.