Every cloud has a silver lining, and for the residents of Disney World’s “Magic Kingdom” motel, those residual linings of hope and solace are all that is left for them. In Sean Baker’s film “The Florida Project,” single mother Halley, her daughter Mooney, her three mischievous delinquent friends, and the rest of the motel’s residents aim to sustain their place in the eye of the impoverished and depressive hurricane they are trapped in.
“The Florida Project” opens up with six-year-old Dicky, one of the motel’s residents, running to his friends, Mooney and Scooty, screaming his name. The thing I immediately registered was the kids’ childlike energy and passion completely polarizing the run-down and tired image of the motel, that of which is retained by a thread throughout the film.
The Magic Kingdom Motel is a run-down and impoverished living environment riddled with domestic violence, suspicious figures, uncomfortable and traumatized outsiders, and the constant mischief caused by the three kids. Because of the residents’ impoverished conditions, they do not have access to the more polished reaches of Disney World, so they compensate with whatever they can find around the motel. For instance, if the kids wanted to go to the safari zone, they would have to go to the back of the motel and look at the animals painted on the side of it. Even still, they manage to have a fun, jubilant time.
Mooney’s mother, Halley, the protagonist of the film, is first seen being approached by cops in her motel room while smoking a joint, being notified of her potential eviction if she doesn’t pay her rent on time. To gather the money, Halley and the juvenile trio steal food and money from the tourists passing through to go to Disney World, all the while laughing and joking. Based on the kids’ relative desensitization to these activities, the viewer can infer that it’s something they all have done extensively and have suffered little to no consequence from.
However, with six years of illicit activities under the kids’ belts and being guided towards believing it is morally acceptable, dire consequences are sure to ensue.
Mooney, Dicky, and Scooty all want to go to the haunted mansion in Disney World, but to compensate for it they visit an abandoned house nearby completely unsupervised. Dicky then catches the house on fire, and as a result, he is no longer allowed to hang out with his friends and is kept in isolation from the rest of the residents by his mother. Halley’s reaction is much different, however, as she dismisses the incident because “they’re just kids.” As the film progresses, the childlike fun Halley and Mooney are having slowly begins to spiral to dark depths.
Desperate for money, Halley takes up prostitution, and during scenes where she performs her duties, all the viewer can see is Mooney in the bathtub while loud music used to mask Halley’s noises blares from the adjacent room. The innocent, unaware, and senseless look on Mooney’s face during these scenes were the most striking, as she is merely a kid and has no mental grasp on the reality of her and her mother’s situation.
The aspect of this film that I found the most moving is a combination of the brutally realistic and dialogue-independent direction, and the fact that the events taking place in the film are events that occur in low-income homes all across the country. It effectively sheds light on the poor living conditions and misguiding of children of people in the lower class without a hint of bias; “The Florida Project” is not pushing any agenda. It is merely an unapologetic sight through the brutal looking glass of the struggling.