Incomplete? Yes. Beautiful and moving? Definitely.
The Florida Project, while stunning and socially relevant, fails to encapsulate an argument with the framework of a complete story. The result is a lack of attachment, a distancing from the predicament portrayed. It is as if we’re watching a beautiful reenactment of real-life events, rather than actively participating in a collaborative attempt to resolve the conflict at hand.
Film—or any storytelling medium for that matter—need not craft strong arguments to touch an Audience. The slice-of-life or experience narrative is every bit as valid as the Grand Argument Story defined by the Dramatica® theory of story. The 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes for The Florida Project attests to that reality.
Unfortunately, with so many other outlets competing for our attention, the lack of something more to the substance of the narrative leaves the experience a one-and-done affair. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times may have been referring to the uncomfortable factor of the subject matter with his comment:
It’s a film that’ll make you wince at times, and you’ll most likely not want to see twice, but seeing it once is an experience you’ll not soon forget.
But he also refers to the straightforward nature of The Florida Project’s narrative: a tale of woe, its only meaning that of comparing the end to the beginning.
Complete stories make complete arguments. Calling into service several different perspectives, these types of narratives seek to explore a universal truth about how best to approach problems in our own lives. By comparing & contrasting conflict from various points-of-view, a complete story grants us greater understanding.
The most glaring deficiency in The Florida Project is its lack of a clear and established Main Character Throughline. The perspective of the Main Character is the Audience’s entryway into a narrative. Without it, we feel as if we are watching the events on-screen, rather than becoming a part of them.
Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) offers us our best opportunity to become a part of the narrative, mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) and Bobby Hicks (Willem Dafoe) our most significant source of personal challenge. Unfortunately, we never get a sense of what it feels like to be Moonee, to be influenced by these other competing perspectives. Her performance captivates—but without the narrative and development of character to support her scenes—we sympathize with her plight, rather than empathize. Her breakdown and subsequent tumble into delusion would move us more if it represented an indication of Resolve at the tail end of a Main Character Throughline.
Roeper is right: The Florida Project is an experience you won’t forget. However, you’ll note that the only Academy Award nomination for the film offers recognition for the acting—and Supporting Actor at that. In fact, awards for the film’s writing are conspicuously absent across the board.
A story is an opportunity for an artist to connect one mind with another, a chance to better understand our world.
A tale is a report.
The Florida Project, while offering us a glimpse into an uncomfortable reality of our present-day world, misses that chance to connect by merely reporting the day’s events.