Monday, January 01, 2018

'The Florida Project' Is a Heartwarming and Heartbreaking Masterpiece

The Florida Project focuses on a group of impoverished children living in a budget motel nearby Disney World, as they spend their summer days amusing themselves, loitering across town, eating ice cream, mooching from tourists, and causing juvenile mischief.  Meanwhile, due to their naive, young minds, they don’t take notice of the horrors and harshness of life occurring around them.

Willem Dafoe plays the supporting role of Bobby Hicks, the manager of the motel.  Though constantly exasperated by the misbehavior of the kids and their parents, he maintains a fatherly heart for them.  Dafoe delivered here the kind of nuanced, impeccable performance that you would expect from a legend like him.  You really get to feel for his character, who is oozing with patience, compassion, and tough love.

But the most remarkable performances come from the young cast.  This film features some of the most adorable and compelling child acting of 2017, particularly from Brooklynn Prince and Valeria Cotto, who respectively played Moonee and Jancey.
Through Moonee and Jancey and the other kids, the film portrays childhood in the most down-to-earth way possible.  There’s no cinematic romanticizing involved.  It shows what actual childhood can be in real life.  It shows that children are impish.  In the absence of supervision, left at their own devices, they can be annoying, naughty, vulgar, and inconsiderate.  These things come naturally for them, as they know nothing better.   And it’s not necessarily because they are evil.  But simply because of their immaturity, their innate vitality, playfulness, curiosity, fun-lovingness, and ignorance get the better of them.  And that’s where adults come in – to guide and counsel.

Still, even though its portrayal of childhood in this film is realistic, it’s nonetheless magical.

But realism is a double-edged sword.  As much as this film is heartwarming, whimsical, joyous, amusing, and uplifting, it’s also poignant, dark, tragic, sour, and depressing.  This film will break hearts.  It broke my heart.
With this film’s focus on a crude, poverty-stricken section of society, we are reminded of the pitiful state of the less fortunate.  Not necessarily because they are neck-deep in poverty, but because they are seemingly ill-equipped in getting out of it.  The film shows the sad reality that poverty breeds boorish character and boorish character breeds poverty.  It’s a vicious cycle that is difficult to break.  For boorishness often comes as a means of coping and surviving in an impoverished environment.

And it is the children who will have the most painful time in such case.  For though their innocence shields them from initially recognizing troubles, their naivety leaves them vulnerable and incapable of dealing with troubles when they finally get at them.  There’s something sweet and adorable when children approach a problem with a simple-minded solution, as what Moonee and Jancey try to do at the end of the movie.  But, ultimately, it’s saddening because the problem isn’t really solved through such means.
There are poor, struggling people all over the world.  But setting this story nearby Disney World is simply brilliant, as its proximity to “The Happiest Place on Earth” (yeah, that’s technically Disneyland’s nickname, but you get the point) casts a shadow of beautiful, resounding poetic irony.

For me, The Florida Project is definitely one 2017’s best films.  But beyond that, it’s a cinematic masterpiece that hopes to inspire its audience to be more thankful, kind, patient, and empathetic.  Especially to children.

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