Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Taking place in the Magic Castle Motel in Orlando, Baker’s film follows a struggling teen mom and her six year old daughter, Moonee. The film pays homage to childhood while avoiding the all-too-common family friendly vice. The realism in the film can be attributed to the real settings (a real motel, real stores and diners, real background noise, etc.), and lack of the extraordinary acting. After seeing the film, I learned that aside from the main characters, most of the people in the film are real people who actually live and work in the settings where the movie was filmed. As exhibited in the film by the main plot along with its background subliminal events, most of the people in the movie are hustling to make ends meet. Knowing that many of the characters are real people who live in those conditions helps me better appreciate the light Baker sheds about poverty; how common that way of living is and how it often is not portrayed without being overdone so that most of the audience cannot connect to it. Though my upbringing has been comforted by endless safety nets that the children in this film do not have, I could still connect to and appreciate their undying chase for adventure and imagination. The kids are, however, exposed to dangers like fire, pedofiles, fights, drug and alcohol abuse to name a few. And while these are vices all people can be exposed to, they are omnipresent in the film. Though the film is incredibly raw and not “family-friendly”, Baker so cleverly managed to offset what could be to some viewers like hard-to-watch, serious overkill with charming comedy.
All of these aspects of the film prevent any character from being, as my friend put it, “the villain”. All their struggles are situational. And yes, the government could be blamed for the root cause of creating and allowing a social hierarchy that traps the people on bottom levels in a nearly impossible to escape cycle. However, in the film government services are used to protect characters, for example, child protective services. Inversely, Willem Dafoe plays the role closest to the hero. Though he, too has his demons. In the end of the film, Moonee and her friend run from the motel to Disney World. People may argue the end is anti-climatic and unfinished. However, the ending reveals a juxtaposition between Disney World, this capitalist dream world, to the impoverished society we have observed during the whole movie. The final image, of the two girls running through Disney World toward Magic Castle highlights that they are just normal kids living in bad circumstances because they look like any average kids running through Disney World. It also reveals to the audience how close the actual Magic Castle has been to the Magic Castle Motel the entire time, yet the audience would not have known as the final scene is the first time the girls have ever been to actual Disney World. In a broader sense, the juxtaposition underscores the veneers everywhere in the United States that give a fake front to our country’s societal disparities.