Shockingly, I may have underestimated The Florida Project when I saw it two months ago. I praised it highly then… and yet, after seeing it again tonight, I think I didn’t praise it enough. Because there’s virtually nothing wrong with it. Nothing. Going in, I was doubting whether a second viewing would enrich the first, and to be honest, I felt a bit of trepidation, because this can be a very tough watch at times. Yet another viewing made me appreciate it even more than the first time. This is Moonee’s odyssey first and foremost: her childhood on her own terms, free of responsibility and luxury, yet joyous and fulfilling regardless. Brilliantly showcased in parallel is Halley’s world: reckless to the extreme, occasionally criminal, crass—yet always, always in service to her daughter. Like the comet she’s named after, her light cannot always be seen, but when it’s there, it shines brightly. Baker encourages us to look for that light, even when we don’t want to, or it seems too impossible a task. After all, Halley is by no means a good role model, and her insouciance in the face of order and decency is not an endearing trait. Nevertheless, if we try to understand her world, and see her for who she is as a mother trying to keep her daughter happy and healthy, it’s possible to find a nugget of worth.
I also think the ending is extraordinary. It’s a complete departure from the film’s tone, and it solves and resolves nothing… yet, it’s beautiful. A girl whose life is about to change forever gets to have one more happy, innocent day with her friend. Whether or not the spontaneous trip is truly cathartic for her, we’ll never know, but the fact remains: this young child is allowed one more slice of goodness rather than misery. And it’s hard not to get emotional at that, because you’re both relieved she has this one last escape, and also terrified for her future. Inevitably, she must return to Bobby’s motel, and inevitably, the consequences will be devastating. Maybe that story will be for another day. What matters is that, when the credits come up, emotions we didn’t even know we’d be able to feel rise up and overwhelm us. And that’s why this film is so special.