Now on Demand: The Florida Project: ****
In theory, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) is a saintly organization.
In a perfect world, DCF social workers would heroically swoop into a troubled home and save a desperate child from intolerable neglect and abuse.
And then that child would be swiftly moved into the warm embrace of her foster parents, who are definitely opening their home because of love rather than the monthly government stipend. The lucky foster child would immediately receive full parental care and acceptance. And also a pony.
In the real world, the Florida Department of Children of Families does sometimes do the right thing and gives abused children a new chance at life. And sometimes it just destroys families.
“The Florida Project” takes place at the Magic Castle: an ironically named extended-stay motel less than a mile away from Disney World.
The residents of Magic Castle pay $200 a week to stay there, but they are all living day to day. Brilliant writer/director Sean Baker gives us a documentary-style view into the lives of families who globalism has left in the dust.
21st Century Orlando is practically a 3rd World Caribbean country, with impoverished natives living off the spare change of upper middle-class tourists.
Sounds like a pretty sad movie, right? Heck no! To our six year old leading lady Moonee, every day is a celebration. The world is her playground, and every day Moonee finds a new way to beg, borrow, steal, and vandalize her way into an adventure.
Moonee has no rules, no structure, and no discipline, but she knows that she can always go home to her loving mother Halley.
Halley is a foul-mouthed, trashy green-haired girl who does not look or act old enough to have a daughter. Halley doesn’t have a job and she doesn’t appear to have any family or friends. So she has to hustle hard every week at various illegal activities to earn her rent money.
Life definitely isn’t always fun for Halley, but she doesn’t feel sorry for herself. She has the love of her life Moonee to hang out with every night.
“The Florida Project” is a funny, charming film about a happy, loving family. Unfortunately, we the audience know what the characters don’t: the DCF is a Sword of Damocles dangling over Halley and Moonee, and every other powerless lower-class family.
Child welfare agencies would like you to believe that they are detectives who sniff out the most at-risk children. The reality is that they visit families based on calls they receive. The people visited by the DCF aren’t the worst parents; they are the parents who made enemies of their exes or their neighbors.
Sean Baker never takes the easy way out with his social argument. He does not glorify poverty and he doesn’t defend Halley’s lifestyle or behavior.
He subtly but forcefully argues that Moonee would be better off if she had a mom with an ounce of decorum, restraint, maturity, and class. She doesn’t. But Moonee does have happiness. She does have joy. She does have love. She does have a family. She does have a mom.
In theory, the Florida Department of Children and Families is an organization that saves children. In practice, the DCF sometimes takes crying daughters out of the loving arms of their mothers.
There is no easy answer to the problem of at risk children. “The Florida Project” makes a powerful case that the DCF isn’t it. Personally, I don’t trust government to ever find a good answer.