One of my favourite things about The Florida Project is its central theme of finding your own kingdom. We can’t always choose our own life circumstances, but we can grow and adapt to it. The movie breaks apart this holy sanctuary falsehood that’s often associated with Florida and its magical Disney festivities, showcasing the real Florida, not often seen on screen. And not only that, but through its imperfections, it’s a love letter to Florida. While not all of it will live up to the vision the rest of the world has in its head, it’s still the equivalent of Disney Land for those who live there, and there’s no better protagonist for the job than that of six-year-old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince).
Halley’s character arc is particularly subtle, especially in the ways her true lifestyle is brought to the surface. Moonee doesn’t know everything, or if she does, she doesn’t quite understand, so it’s never explained to us, the audience. We put the pieces together ourselves, which is where I can see this movie not working for a less open general audience. You could easily toss the story aside as pointless and repetitive, with no real narrative progression made. It can be seen as a series of sequences where these young characters get up to mischief all before a dramatic climax, but it’s not. There’s a strong story at play here, but our protagonist is not the central focus. They’re a player in the game, but so is the audience, and it’s up to us to observe and discover what the outcome will be for us personally.
The entirety of the cast kills it, most notably Dafoe, but young Brooklyn Prince is the most impressive. There’s a strong complexity behind her character, one with more layers than your average child character, and Prince manages to embody everything thrown her way. For a little while, I struggled to connect with her character, her obnoxious and demanding behaviour not too pleasant of a watch, but with time you learn to care and sympathise with her and her situations. By the time the ending rolls around, emotions are high, and there’s a scene towards the finale that Prince shares with a fellow kid actor that’s beyond tremendous. It’s no moving emotional soliloquy, like so many of the previous stand out moments, but something raw and vigorous, and it’s a stunning scene to watch unfold.
Still, what’s at play here works. The film has been a critical hit with the residents of Florida, and it makes sense. For those with any sort of personal connection to the area or the people, this film will hit you like a shot to the heart. It’s plays out as a very personal experience, one that comes across as very real. For everybody else, this film remains an exquisite portrayal of what it’s like to be a child, presented in ways Hollywood tends to shy away from. It’s not perfect, but it’s different, and certainly not bad. This isn’t the last you’re going hear of The Florida Project in the coming months, trust me.
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