The Florida Project is from Sean Baker who brought us the wonderful Tangerine in 2015. It has a similar vibe, just a step up from documentary without a lot of story development. Where that one was on the streets of LA, this time it’s summer in Orlando. School’s out for a group of kids who live in low-rent motels not too far from Disney World. They spend their days running around looking for adventure and getting into trouble. 6-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is the center of it all. She’s foul-mouthed and full of piss and vinegar, just like her ne’er-do-well mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) who definitely loves her, but can’t really take care of anything. Mom’s figured how to get what she needs to hang on, but not much more. And the motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) is seconds from throwing them to the curb.
This year’s films seem to be replete with bad moms – I, Tonya, Lady Bird, Loveless. And Halley certain ranks up there. She cheats and steals and even prostitutes herself to get by. She swears to the bureaucrats that she’s looking for a job, but mostly you see her hanging out in her squalid motel room smoking and watching TV while her little daughter runs around who knows where with who knows who. The only responsible adult around is Bobby, but even while he’s looking out for the kids, he knows he has to do his job and he’s tired of the losers living there who take advantage of him daily. It’s not a happy place. Scooty lives with his waitress Mom who works all day, leaving him all alone to pal around with Moonee. They meet Jancey while spitting on her grandmother’s car for fun. She lives in a different low-rent motel. For all of them this place is just “temporary”, but they do what kids do and make it their world.
As I said, there isn’t a whole lot of story. Moonie and Halley just move closer and closer to being thrown out or arrested, though mostly it’s watching a pretty sad daily grind, punctuated with sweet moments between them or with Moonee and her new BFF Jancey. This film doesn’t have the the pull of complex characters to care about that Tangerine did. And there were a lot of points that I was wondering when something would “happen”, when the story would get going. It never really did. And Willem Dafoe felt wasted. I don’t think this one needs to be seen on a big screen. Wait for it on Netflix.