We had been trying—and failing!—to get into the L.A. Israel Film Festival for days, only to find it being sold out again-and-again. This stings because the past couple years have fallen off in quality and this year might be as good as the crowds indicate. It also might just represent better marketing, since we learned later that some of the other outlets were nearly empty. (If we’d known that at the time, we’d’ve gone there.) Anyway, this night, I believe, we tried two different films and just gave up and went to see The Florida Project.
From the poster and from the initial scenes, I immediately wondered if this had been directed by the guy who did Tangerine and Starlet, and I just now looked it up to discover that yes, it was. While still fairly seamy, it’s lacks the former’s slightly hidden and the latter’s hardcore sex scenes, and benefits greatly from being done from the perspective of a little girl, Moonnee, who is learning to be a hellacious drain on society from her mother, Halley, who is a professional hellacious drain on society.
This movie concerns one summer when the largely unsupervised Moonnee and her pals go on many adventures, though nothing like The Goonies. The movie opens with Moonnee and best-pal Scooty spitting on a car that turns out to be owned by Jancey’s grandmother (Stacy), and on Jancey, too. Stacy takes umbrage to this and demands that Halley have the kids clean up the car but when Jancey joins in, too, the event turns less punishment and more game, with everyone involved becoming friends.
All of these people live in motels. You can’t live in a motel, though, so they have to move every so often. Moonnee and her mom live in a hotel run by Bobby (Willem Dafoe, and this is one of those reviews that drive the spell-checker nuts), and he has a gimmick where he swaps his miscreants out for another hotel’s miscreants on a periodic basis.
Moonee’s a practiced pan-handler, a vandal and ultimately an arsonist, which ends up estranging Halley from Scooty’s mom (Ashley), which is a pity since she’s been mooching off Ashley (who packages up food for them from her waitressing job). Ultimately Halley turns to prostitution (when her contraband perfume sales land her afoul of the law, and she’s got two strikes already) but she can’t even do that straight, pilfering from her johns whilst servicing them. (And then denying to Ashley that a photo ad showing her many, many tattoos is her.)
Anyway, in tradition of Sean Baker films, we’ve got some likable characters with some really unlikable traits. Ashley is clueless and rudderless and a low-level criminal, but she does love her daughter. Oh, she’s also irresponsible, vindictive and physically violent. One can’t help but think the only thing worse for Moonnee is whatever the nice people at Child Protective Services have in mind for her.
Moonnee herself is cute and charming, though that comes off as ominous given Halley’s trajectory.
Not to get Scrooge-y here but: Don’t we pay taxes for this sort of thing? Is it really so much to ask that the incredibly expensive school system and welfare programs produce good citizens? I guess so. It’s almost like governments aren’t good at that sort of thing.
The Boy and I liked it all right but obviously this is a low-budget slice-of-life, and a slice from the sort of life most people would probably like to avoid. All around good performances, Oscar-worthy from Willem Dafoe. A nice ending when one wasn’t actually expected.