The Florida Project
2017 1h 55min
Available on Amazon Prime
By far, this was my favorite film of 2017/18. Though it was shunned by mainstream awards committees, I bet the sociologist in you will find this more true-to-life than any other film from last year. Furthermore, this would be an excellent movie to show to students of sociology because it exhibits so many concepts and social problems. Yet what makes this film particularly beautiful is that the characters exhibit agency and empathy in their complex relationships.
First of all, the cinematography of the film is stunning; the audience is like a “fly on the wall”, witnessing the everyday lives of the characters in a welfare motel outside of Disney World. We follow a group of children as they are given free-reign to play in the impoverished environment. Perhaps the most evident sociological themes here relate to raising children, particularly from a social class perspective. Middle-class children are said to experience concerted cultivation— a hectic pace of structured activities said to equip the child with portfolios of experience (e.g., Piano practice, cub scouts, soccer teams, play dates, etc.). Juxtapose this with working-class parents, who are said to value natural growth, essentially taking a hands-off approach to their child’s development and social life. It is this laissez-faire approach to parenting that is so brilliantly depicted in the movie.
The children who live in the motel explore their environment virtually free of any supervision while their parents are at work or making money through other illegitimate means. Being from deviant families and living in a place with less-than-exemplary people, it is no surprise that the children witness and engage in deviance themselves—lying, stealing, burning down abandoned apartments, and even aiding their parents in illegal financial pursuits. One issue this film portrays quite vividly is the struggle of single working mothers. Whereas the U.S. is said to be a pro-natalist country, the inadequacy of our policies and programs is painfully depicted here. The motel is essentially a refuge for those who have fallen through the cracks of woefully insufficient support services. Furthermore, the film does not depict these working poor as negligent or powerless, but rather as people fighting to maintain a dignified life in the face of tough times.
While any brief description of the film may paint the setting and characters as delinquents engaged in a destructive lifestyle, what makes this film beautiful are the extraordinary acts of kindness, love, and mutual support. For example, arguments between characters often later give way to sharing cigarettes and other small acts of compassion. This demonstration of empathy is evident in director Sean Baker’s other films as well, most notably Tangerine (2015).
Sociological themes include: Social class, poverty, childhood development, parenting styles, deviance, crime…