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Movie review: the Florida Project

Valerie Lannon

November 21, 2017

Spoiler alert: This review includes descriptions of key points in the movie’s plot.

From the opening title track with Kool and the Gang singing “Celebration” and the scenes of endless Florida sunshine we are thrown into the life of happy-go-lucky young children having fun on their own during summer break. They cajole strangers for money so they can buy ice cream to share with each other. They score free waffles from the back door of a restaurant where one of their mothers works. They explore the nearby fields to sit in trees or watch the cows.

The children are cute, resourceful, funny, creative, kind and definitely anti-authority.  One of their adventures brings mixed reviews from the surrounding community when they set a deserted condo development on fire. Their families hated the place.

All of this takes place against a backdrop of extreme poverty. The children live in motels in Orlando, just outside Disney World, which is the expensive playground for wealthy families or for families who scrounge for funds to make their children’s manufactured dreams come true. The motels have names like Futureland Inn and Magic Castle, all painted in pastels and all inhabited by families trying to get by on welfare or less. The greedy motel owners are sure to make funds available to keep the outsides of the motels always brightly painted. But, in Grenfell fashion, no money is provided to prevent and stop bed bug infestations.

The movie revolves around one family in particular – young mother Halley and her 6-year old daughter Moonee. Halley is very young, has few “marketable” skills, lacks any family besides her daughter, and has no friends, after alienating her one friend who lives in the motel. Halley and Moonee share an intense love for one another, a fact that is reinforced throughout the film.

Halley cobbles together a living, initially by performing in a strip club, then hawking “wholesale” perfume to tourists staying in nearby luxury hotels. When she is kicked off the hotel property she resorts to sex work in her motel room. While her mom is with customers, Moonee, ignorant of what is going on, stays playing in her bubble bath and loud music plays in the main part of the hotel room.

War on the poor

Halley is then reported to the state authorities and child welfare department. After an “investigation”, the authorities decide to remove Moonee. It is so painful to watch her, this strong little girl, crying tears of terror at the thought of being separated from her mother. 

Most reviews of this movie focus on the ability of the children to make something out of nothing and to bemoan Halley’s “poor decisions” which force the child’s removal. But these totally miss the point that in the US (and most western economies) in general and Florida in particular, there is a political ruling class that champions “less government” and wages an all-out assault on the poor. Halley’s “poor decisions” and Moonee’s removal would have been completely preventable if we lived in a society that actually gave a shit about children. We would ensure that no one lives in poverty, that social networks are in place, that parents are ensured the resources they need.

What happens to Halley and Moonee happens every day in First Nations, where the Canadian government has chosen to under-fund health and social services, the very services that can support families and prevent tragedies.

This movie is similar to Ken Loach’s films, including his latest “I Daniel Blake”. We need more of these films, the kind that exposes the brutality that is poverty, an inevitable by-product of capitalism. They also make us think about how the world should be if we really cared about families.


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