Sean Baker’s follow up to Tangerine similarly explores the life of people on the periphery of American society. This parallel world is given a dual representation, as it focuses on the summer o 6 year old Moonee and her friends, while being on the literal periphery of the idealised representation of American life, Disneyworld. They live in a welfare motel with the ironic name of The Magic Kingdom, within sight of the original Florida Project. The life of children mirrors the half glimpsed lives of those struggling outside the American dream. We see it out the corner of our eyes, under stair wells and scoot along, but it has its own dialect, values and concerns. What Baker is adept at is bringing authenticity, and warmth to these depictions without ever romanticising them.
It is a world that is rich and valid but without the protection that money affords, both for the children (a predatory pedophile is chased away by Defoe) and parents (Moonee’s mother Hailey search for work takes her into increasingly unsavoury situations). What the film represents is the stress of living with continual precarity – when they have to move out for a night, the usual arrangement falls through and we are made to realise how close they are on a daily basis to living on the street and starving.
Just as Baker doesn’t romanticise poverty, so he portrays the life of the children with an honest glare. Moonee and her pals are at the age where they exist on the border of delinquency but are still full of fun and wonder – they vandalise and set fire to deserted condo but also scream in delight at discovering “ghost poo”.
In the end the precariousness of existence turns savage, the lack of a social safety net means that even the stoic, sympathetic hotel manager (played with deadpan warmth by Defoe) can’t prevent them falling through. Arguably the “Disneyworld as representation of the American dream” theme is heavy handed, but when the film ends with the best friends running from their troubles to the Disney castle, it’s a powerful and moving image.
Along with Lady Bird, this perhaps marks a coming of age of mumblecore. The naturalism, dialogue and loose plot of Florida certainly feels like it could happily reside in France, but it has a lot to say about the state of the US post depression. In a time when anti-youth sentiments are prevalent it was the realistic, and rich representation of children’s lives that is its memorable contribution though.