Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez
PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE OF CHILDREN?—Is it somehow okay for screenplay writers and directors to require young children to memorize and say profane and vulgar things, make obscene gestures and make sexual comments—over and over—for the production of a movie?
How might this affect youngsters? What does such behavior say about the morality and judgment of the adults involved?
being a terrible, irresponsible mother
Drunkenness in the Bible
The results when all the adults in a child’s life are being awful role models.
Raising children in a permissive, unsupervised atmosphere—with no correction or consequences for sinful and wicked behavior
What is SIN AND WICKEDNESS? Is it just “bad people” that are sinners, or are YOU a sinner? Answer
Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer
How good is good enough? Answer
The important of self-sacrifice and good works
Poor in the Bible
Willem Dafoe … Bobby
Brooklynn Prince … Moonee, 6 year old girl
Bria Vinaite … Halley, mother of Moonee
Valeria Cotto … Jancey
Christopher Rivera … Scooty
Caleb Landry Jones … Jack
Macon Blair … Tourist John
Karren Karagulian … Narek
Sandy Kane … Gloria
Jason Blackwater … Ticket-Buying Dad
Carl Bradfield … Charlie Coachman
Jim R. Coleman (Jim Coleman) … Cabbie
Kelly Fitzgerald … Twistee Treat Girl's Mom
Sabina Friedman-Seitz … Church Group Sarah
Gary B. Gross … Officer Gary
See all »
See all »
Living just over an hour from “The Happiest Place on Earth,” I have been fortunate enough to make the drive to Disneyworld a few times. The closer you get to the park, the more obvious and garish everything gets. Signs and buildings practically scream at overwhelmed tourists: “Stop here!” “Spend here!” Locals know that tunnel vision is key; focus on the park entrance and don’t let anything distract you until you’re safely inside.
But, in “The Florida Project,” we are forced to look at a neglected segment of society living just a stone’s throw away from The Magic Kingdom. These people operate in a world just a step above a homeless shelter, and, for some, a horizontal step from a halfway house. Their “kingdom” is actually called “Magic Castle,” a Barney-purple hotel complex with rooms for $35 a night. Most of the inhabitants pay by the week, have turned weeks into months, and have made this “castle” their as-permanent-as-can-be home.
As the movie opens, we meet Moonee (Brooklyn Prince), a precocious and profane 6-year old who roams the Castle grounds and its surrounding areas with her posse of Scooty, Dicky, and later, Jancey. The kids are spending their summer days doing innocent kid things like bumming ice cream off of generous patrons, going on “safaris” to nearby pastures, annoying the hotel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe), and eating jelly sandwiches in gnarled Spanish moss trees. They also throw water balloons at tourists, have spitting contests off the balcony onto nearby parked cars, hurl crude insults at elderly women sunbathing topless, shut off power to the complex, and burn down an abandoned building. You know, summer stuff.
Moonee’s mostly absentee mom is Halley (Bria Vinaite), a young woman living on welfare and having a hard time keeping a job. She relies heavily on (read: uses) people in the hotel community to watch after her and her daughter by providing them with free food whenever possible, helping out with weekly rent, and having late rent-payments overlooked. Occasionally, she will take Moonee and whatever money she does have and go buy knock-off perfumes from a wholesaler that she will then turn around and sell to guests outside of higher-end resorts that cater to the Disney crowd. When not hustling, she’s usually inside her hotel room watching television and unaware of what her daughter is up to outside.
Bobby is the key to Halley and Moonee’s survival at Magic Castle, and to the survival of many of the hotel’s families. He serves as a protective grandfatherly figure to the free-range children, and a disciplinary fatherly figure to their parents, even counting to three when Halley blows up on him in the hotel lobby. He wants what’s best for the families, especially for Halley and Moonee, but also has to run a somewhat tight operation for the hotel owner, who is always on his back.
“The Florida Project” is less about plot, and more about throwing us into the middle of a world we never stop to think about and leaving us there for two hours. We see what existence looks like for an oft-forgotten, and judged, segment of society. For people needing typical film structure, “The Florida Project” won’t be for you.
For viewers looking for clean, wholesome entertainment, this movie won’t be for you either. But, if you’ve watched the trailers or seen the rating, you should already at least have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into.
The movie is rated R for “language throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references, and some drug material.” The language is strong from all the characters, children included. They are also prone to using their middle fingers when looking for a rise out of someone. The children make sexual references. A topless woman is seen laying out by the pool while the kids heckle her from the stairwell.
Halley is seen in revealing clothing throughout the movie, and sometimes it’s fairly obvious she’s not wearing a bra beneath her shirt. She makes a crude sexual gesture behind someone’s back. And she engages in a line of work on the side that isn’t exactly legal. I won’t give specifics, as to not give away a certain plot point that goes along with that particular line of work, but suffice it to say, it also helps maintain the R rating.
An older man wanders onto the property and approaches a large group of playing children. It is no secret to us the man is a pedophile, and the scene is genuinely unsettling because it feels so real. There are other elements that contribute to the R rating that I can’t recall, but “The Florida Project” is a strong “R,” and discernment should be used accordingly. This is absolutely not a movie for children, and not likely to be a movie teenagers will be interested in seeing.
In a lot of ways, “The Florida Project” reminds me of last year’s Best Picture winner “Moonlight.” That movie started off in a South Florida project community and followed a young boy neglected by his mother and who left to fend for himself in the dangerous world around him. He is discovered and watched over by a man who wants nothing more than for that little boy to be safe and well taken care of. Where “Moonlight” then jumps ahead to teenage years and adulthood, “The Florida Project” stays firmly rooted in Moonee’s childhood, in the now.
Both movies unflinchingly show us parts of American society that are easy to ignore because so few of us spend any time in them, or even thinking about them. I remember the feeling I had after leaving “Moonlight” and wishing so much more could be done for children growing up in those environments. These are fatherless children who need to be shown love, guidance, hope.
I left “The Florida Project” feeling the same way. Where the mother in “Moonlight” was one of the most wicked mothers I’ve seen in movies, Halley doesn’t strike that note. She’s a terrible mom, of that there is no doubt. But we never actually doubt her affection for her daughter. There are moments where we see a fierce loyalty to her little girl, moments where she goes out of her way to do special things for Moonee and her friends.
Most worldly people are clearly living a life of HEDONISM—in constant search of instant gratification. They believe that their personal pleasure and happiness are the most important intrinsic good and aim of human life.”
Sadly, can the same be said of some modern “Christians,” despite the fact that the Bible clearly teaches Earthly pleasure and pursuit of fleeting personal happiness are most certainly NOT the highest good—and lead to a multitude of sins—and distance us from God?
Scripture teachs voluntary self-sacrifice, self-denial, good works, seeking rewards in Heaven (not on Earth), humility, and being a servant in earnest devotion to God and His Kingdom. Incidentally, doing these things can produce great personal happiness, but that is not the goal of a true follower of Christ.
But, Halley’s focus and priority doesn’t ever truly seem to be Moonee; Halley’s focus is Halley. Halley does whatever will get her through that day. There isn’t an eye on the future, no talk of leaving The Magic Castle. Halley is about instant gratification—living in the now.
And I think that was the theme that stuck with me most after watching “The Florida Project”—living in the moment for one’s self. The dichotomy between life in The Magic Castle to the life we know is being enjoyed just across the road at The Magic Kingdom is jarring in its extremes. Each group is completely oblivious to the world being lived right outside whichever “Magic” walls they find themselves behind. And yet such extremes exist in our country and go largely ignored.
It’s easy for all of us to pretend the other world doesn’t exist, or to assume that the people are there on their own doing and don’t deserve any help or guidance. Halley lives the way she lives because she doesn’t know any better. We believe that this attitude toward life was likely nurtured in her, the same way it is being nurtured in Moonee.
Moonee is a difficult character because, as troublesome and mouthy as she can be, we keep having to remind ourselves that she’s only 6 years old. She doesn’t know the meaning of the words she uses or the gestures she makes. She emulates her mother, sees the reactions people give her and knows she’s getting her point across.
As jarring as the juxtaposition between The Magic Kingdom and Castle are, the one between Moonee the trouble-maker and Moonee the little girl is equally as hard-hitting. There is a moment near the end of the movie where we see something in Moonee we haven’t seen before, and when it hits us, it’s one of the most overwhelming and heartbreaking scenes I can remember in quite a while.
“The Florida Project” is powerful. It’s eye-opening. It’s heartbreaking. It’s tremendously acted. And, in a way, I think it’s a call to notice those in society we often neglect. It’s easy to drive through the gates at Disney, ride the monorail between parks, spend the day ooooing and ahhhing over the incredible spectacle that is “The Happiest Place on Earth” and not for a second think about anything or anyone else. It’s easy to spend more there in one day than the inhabitants of The Magic Castle spend on rent for weeks.
No, change can’t happen immediately. People who have been nurtured in those environments don’t change overnight. But love can be shown to them. A local church group shows up at The Magic Castle each week to hand out bread and baked goods that the people, especially the children, excitedly await. Little actions can go a long way. “The Florida Project” should at the very least be a conversation starter for Christians who choose to view this movie. What can we, as followers of Christ, do for those less fortunate than us? How can our time be used to better others, bless others—rather than satisfying ourselves?
This movie has stuck with me. And given me pause to examine my own life and look at the ways I am living in the now, for myself. As believers, The Great Commission is a call to action, and a call to first look at the areas around us, before we look to the ends of the earth. It’s easy to sometimes dream of far-away places where the name of Jesus needs to be shared and the love of Jesus needs to be shown. But, as a Floridian myself, “The Florida Project” powerfully reminded me that the mission field is in my own backyard.
What is MERCY? Answer
What are GOOD WORKS? Answer
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.