MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
On DVD and Blu-Ray; Video on Demand; Rent from Redbox, iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, You Tube, Fandango Now, Microsoft Store and VUDU.
Directed by Sean Baker. Starring Brooklynn Prince, Willem Dafoe.
Young adults go into instant eye roll mode when they hear Great-Grandma and Great Grandpa talk about living through the Great Depression and “having to make their own fun”, followed by Baby Boomers bragging about how they could be “let loose to play” in the neighborhood for hours of unsupervised activities. In this overscheduled, over-supervised, risk-filled world of the 21st century it would seem foolish and careless to let kids run wild and free.
Unless, of course, you happen to reside in The Magic Castle Inn and Suites in Kissimmee, Florida, a $44 per night motel just a few miles away from Walt Disney World, and you and your mom live on the edge of homelessness. In that case, you and your friends would be free to make your own fun while your parents figured out ways to earn a little more money through theft, deception, and occasional sex work. As little children with big imaginations, you might get into a little mischief yourself.
Moonie (Prince), Scooty (Christopher Rivera), and Jancey (Valeria Cotto) get into all kinds of small adventures during a typical day, including begging for change to get soft serve ice cream, throwing fish into the motel swimming pool, and turning off the power to the motel just to see what might happen. There might also be a little accidental pyromania as well.
If my description of the world of The Florida Project sounds a bit dark and depressing, let me assure you that this wonderful film takes you into places of laughter and love because it is the world of a young girl’s imagination. Imagination is God’s gift to humanity, giving humans the ability to think beyond what is on the surface and find hope in desperate situations. Imagination is the foundation for innovation and the creator of possibilities. “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Writer-Director Sean Baker used Hal Roach’s Our Gang comedies from the 1930s as his template for The Florida Project. These wonderful short films (syndicated on television in the 1950s and 1960s as The Little Rascals) featured Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, Darla and other kids who made the best out of limited resources. However, (unlike the children in this film) there was always family security for Our Gang, with their occasional invasion and subterfuge of orphanages, considered prisons in these Depression Era comedies.
Moonie and her friends (and the other regular patrons of The Magic Castle) do have a protector in Bobby (Dafoe), the manager of the motel, who has to work with high maintenance and at-risk tenants on a daily basis. Bobby is tough and stern when he needs to be, but also empathetic and kind. This is one of Willem Dafoe’s best roles (I could say “better than Jesus” if I wanted to) and it is a beautiful performance.
Speaking of great performances, I want to give it up for Brooklynn Prince as 6-year-old Moonie. As the heart of this film, she shares with us a life that is both more experienced and more innocent than most childhoods, leading to an ending that is surprising painful and hopeful. The Florida Project is one of my favorite films of 2017.
Four halos: A small film that opens up a world of imagination, heartbreak, compassion and joy, told from a child’s point of view.
Three pitchforks: A lot of rough language throughout; deception and deceit, in survival mode; recreational drug and alcohol use; off-screen prostitution; domestic violence.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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