REVIEW: The Florida Project by Sean Baker

Produced by A24
Directed by Sean Baker

The Florida Project is set in Kissimmee, Florida, a city located in southern Orlando that boasts a thriving tourism industry due to the variety of neighbouring amusement parks, most notably The Walt Disney World.

Disneyland, however, is a stark contrast with the brutal reality of the daily life depicted by Sean Baker in The Florida Project.

This low budget production offers an insight into the lives of the residents of a low-end motel. The Magic Circle is decorated with a fluro-coloured landscape and optimism presented by the children who encircle its premises, however unlike Disneyland it is not sanitised by rainbows, glitter and fairy-tale endings.

The residents of Magic Circle face social and economic burdens with a scarcity of opportunities that limit the egalitarian prospects of the mobility promised by the American dream. The mastery of the film does not lie in its glorification of poverty and struggle however, but instead in a dignified depiction of the hardships faced by ordinary Americans living on the fringes of society.

In this case, communities comprise of ordinary single parents and non-traditional households who are ostracised from the billion-dollar entertainment complex that sells wholesome family fun. The film focuses specifically on Halley and her daughter Moonee. Baker uses the relationship between Halle and Moonee to explore adolescence, childhood and fantasy. The film follows an ethereal pace, mostly trailing behind Moonee and her two friends Jancey and Scootey as they embark on a series of adventures frequently merging innocence with carnage.

The film is impressive for its ability to capture the plight of a struggling community without serving up ‘poverty porn’. There are a number of issues with this production however, despite the fact that Kissimmee is a racially vibrant city with prominent Latin American and African American communities, the film centres two white characters, while this is not necessarily a problem within itself, the treatment of people of colour does raise questions.

In typical fashion, people of colour are relegated to side-line roles, but Halley’s own interactions with non-white characters have largely been ignored. Firstly, there is an encounter with an immigrant family, the couple of Middle-Eastern or Indian descent are subjected to a tantrum riled with a racial slur when Halley learns of the price increase for rooms at their motel.

Further on in the film, Halley subjects her close friend Ashley, also the mother of Scooty to a violent beating that leaves her with a black eye following a fallout between the two women. Both incidents are put forward yet there is no attempt to reconcile them, nor to understand why they occur. This pattern of abuse is reflective of an obsessive relationship in cinema with the violence and humiliation inflicted upon people of colour. It is part of a perverse trend towards racialised subjugation in art forms, particularly those that proclaim a progressive critique of society and racism itself. Baker’s failure to address Halley’s behaviour suggests that it is a normalised reaction to her experiences and hardships and perhaps even one that he attempts to justify

In this vein, the film is deeply flawed, it seeks to explore a set of social, economic and even political issues without truly engaging them. It has the potential to participate in a salient dialogue on the interlinking structures of power; classism, white supremacy and patriarchy that determine the experiences of the characters in the film but instead decides to ignore them.

2018 Critics’ Choice Awards
Best Young Performer, Brooklynn Prince

2017 NYFCC Awards
Best Director, Sean Baker
Best Supporting Actor, Willem Dafoe

2017 NBR Awards
Best Supporting Actor, Willem Dafoe

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