The Florida Project

LetterboxD review link

Even with an imperfect ending, this is a nearly perfect movie. The setting, characters, design, plot, most things about this movie are small and contained but it has a huge, expansive, heart. Like 99 Homes in 2014, this movie captures exurban/suburban Florida frighteningly well. The faded signs on giant warehouses, the bold colors and gaudy paint jobs on buildings that are falling apart, sidewalks meant for “walking” next to 10 lane highways, private helipads and golf courses — Florida captures American inequality in a way few other places can.

Sean Baker, who created Tangerine and Starlet, which were some of my favorite movies of the last 5 years, is working with slightly more fire power this time. But he goes back to the things he knows and does best. Working with amateur actors and capturing their energy, verve and kineticism on screen. There’s a certain wide-angle shot he loves, framing a building (maybe a giant orange or donut), whild his characters walk across. I love this shot and I was happy to see it a few times again in this film.

I had little to feel connected to, in terms of life experience, with the characters in Tangerine, but during The Florida Project I was transported back to a week in 1999 when my mom, sister and I lived in a Days Inn motel off the highway in a small Illinois town. We had just moved to the US and were settling in. My dad worked during the day so my mom took care of us. My mom didn’t drive and we knew no one in Illinois. My sister and I weren’t enrolled in school. We spent our days playing in the pool. Walking down busy streets to get fast food. Watching TV in a stale motel room. And running down to the lobby to get cokes from the vending machine. It was a bizarre experience, I remember hating it. And though it was only a week and short-term choice we had to make before we found an apartment, I remember hating it. But it made me feel a strong sense of kinship with the characters in this movie.

That was almost 20 years ago. I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but I would venture to guess more people live as non-resident residents in motels like this, especially in states like Florida, now than in 1999. The “greatest country on Earth” should do better by its people than this.