Meditation Park (2017)

Written and Directed by: Mina Shum


257925R1           Meditation Park is somewhat unusual for a piece of a western cinema. Its protagonist is a non-white (Chinese), somewhat elderly woman with limited English skills living in Vancouver. Her name is Maria and she is a soft-spoken housewife. Western viewers (myself included, but-for what I learned at a Q&A session after the movie) may miss out on the irony of her being played by one of China’s most famous actors, martial arts movie veteran Cheng Pei Pei. Meditation Park’s notability as a film, however, is by no means limited to the characters it presents. The film is a realistic one, limited by the mundanity of Maria’s life. It nonetheless manages to captivate audiences by stirring up drama in Maria’s world. Briefly she is caught up in a horror movie as a drone of telephone rings overwhelms her. Later, she is the star of a comic-detective film, stocking her husband by taxi in a very-makeshift disguise. More regularly, she lives in a low-key fantasy world, accompanied by her quirky and colourful parking-business friends,

Meditation Park is a story about marital infidelity. What gives it its unique character, however, is that Maria, for a variety of reasons is unable or unwilling to show the emotion we might most expect of her when she discovers her husband’s indiscretions: anger. Maria’s husband Bing (character actor Tzi Ma, last seen in Arrival) is initially presented as a jolly, loving partner, but as the film develops his traditionalist-patriarchal side becomes more apparent. Arguably both his good and domineering sides play a role in keeping Maria from wanting to confront him. Regardless, what matters is that Maria does not confront him, and instead, ambitiously pursues self help by trying to fundamentally alter her own life story.

Maria’s angerless lifestyle allows us to see her in a number of interesting emotional lights. We see her fear, her empathy and her social awkwardness. One side effect of her not being able to express anger at her mistreatment is that she can come across as a bit light-headed. Through her character, audiences thus get a best of both worlds experience. On the one hand, she is satisfying to root for as your typical loveable loser. On the flip side, we know she is not in fact a naïve or oblivious person and as such we do not see her smiles in the face of defeat as a sign of weakness but as melancholy indications of her predicament. If there is one tragic exception to this rule, it pertains to Maria’s English skills. While she has a heavy accent, she is effectively fluent and never struggles to understand the English speaking characters around her. She nonetheless remains convinced throughout the film that her English is not very good, perhaps a sign of the inferiority complex she has towards her husband.

If I were to offer one criticism of the film it is that it prioritizes resolving its plot over maintaining its artistry. There were two moments where I expected the film to end: a scene where Maria participates in a silent disco, and a subsequent scene where Bing breaks down discussing aging. Both scenes would have made for fitting conclusions consistent with what is unique about Maria’s character (she resists without directly resisting and remains optimistic and loving in the face of sorrow). Nonetheless, the film’s more conventional ending is certainly pleasant enough to watch, and I cannot complain too much about getting to spend a few extra minutes with its characters.

Meditation Park also stars Sandra Oh as Maria’s overworked daughter who is in a (mostly) happy, egalitarian marriage; and Don McKellar (star of my favourite Canadian film, Highway 61) as Maria’s mischievously opportunistic but heartbroken neighbour Gabriel. Enjoyable as an educational, visual and narrative experience, Meditation Park is a solid film, and will hopefully get more screen time than it has received so far.


Thoroughbreds (2017)

Written and Directed by: Corey Finley


Thoroughbreds_(2017_film) Whether or not you watched the trailer going into Thoroughbreds, there is probably something you will pick up quickly: this is a film about dichotomies. The film stars two young-women actors, playing even younger (16/17 year old) characters. One, Amanda (Olivia Cooke), is immediately presented as emotionally-lacking. The character throws around some potential diagnostic labels, showing that this is the lens through which her character is viewed, but dismisses them all and never mentions them again (making it clear we should not view her as a caricature of any one condition). All we are supposed to know about her is that she does not have feelings, at least not, according to her, sadness and joy. Her counterpart is Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) who is timid, initially unassertive and working as an SAT tutor for Amanda. Thus we have our initial dichotomy cold-and-dark vs empathetic-and-sensitive.


Savvy viewers, will quickly begin to question the dichotomy between the girls. In the scene immediately following Amanda’s explanation of her condition, she can be seen playing online poker. Despite her criminal past, Amanda appears to be well off with a supportive mother (Lily, it should be noted is blatantly well off, living in a mansion and attending private school). Therefore, it would seem Amanda is gambling for fun, suggesting she does experience something resembling joy. Moreover, while I am clearly no psychologist, I was instantly troubled by the problem of what it meant for a person to feel no joy. I have heard the phrase “pleasure principle” thrown around to describe human behaviour and it sounds right to me: we seek that which makes us happy: why, therefore, would a person do anything if they don’t feel happiness?


While Thoroughbnreds never answers the question of whether or not Amanda does feel joy and whether or not she is a reliable narrator of her own experiences, the film does ultimately complicate its initial dichotomy. Lily is quickly revealed to have troubles of her own and is willing to act as recklessly as Amanda does. Without saying too much, we go from seeing Amanda as free of feeling and Lilly as full of feeling to seeing Amanda as bold in the face of her feelings (or lack their of) and Lily as a prisoner of her feelings.

Another (false) dichotomy lies in the character’s relationship to neuronormativity. While Amanda may be undiagnosed, we know she has been labelled as worthy of diagnosis. Lily has not been subject to any such process. Therefore we are initially led (and many viewers will no doubt fall into this trap even as the film concludes) to see Lily and Amanda in fundamentally different lights: one is sick, one is merely troubled. This distinction between sick and troubled, however, is completely arbitrary and can be described as the result of different lucky breaks playing out in the two girls’ lives.


Class is yet another important dichotomy in Thoroughbreds. Lily’s mansion-dwelling does not simply provide the film with charming scenery, it also serves as a metaphor: a place in which the girls’ web of secrets can hide amidst the many artifacts. Furthermore, by protecting the girls with socioeconomic privilege, the film is able to avoid other complications from intervening with their stories, and thus cut to what it wants to cover: their psychologies. The class dynamics of Thoroughbreds, however, is played out most through the character of Tim (Anton Yelchin). While Tim is introduced in a negative light, having served prison time for statutory rape and currently making money by selling drugs to kids, he is generally portrayed as timid, pathetic and perhaps even pacifistic in comparison to the film’s protagonists. While it is unclear what his previous socioeconomic status was, for much of the film he works as a dishwasher. His character thus shows the different consequences criminal behaviour can have for people in distinct socioeconomic circumstances.


Innocence and horror have long walked hand in hand. Surely many readers can picture the trope of a child eerily asking you to “come and play.” This too is a dichotomy Thoroughbreds embraces and manipulates. Rather than having them be haunted house props or antagonists, this film puts unsettling children at its centre. We are made to be terrified by them, but precisely because we feel for them and do not want them to be terrifying. Unless you don’t like blood, or suspense (there’s far more of that than blood), Thoroughbreds is a must see

A Fantastic Woman (2017)

Directed by: Sebastián Lelio Written by: Lelio and Gonzalo Maza


A_Fantastic_Woman            How do you draw the line between politics and art? It’s not an easy question to answer, and in most cases its probably best left unaddressed. Until humans learn to fully articulate our sensory experiences it is a question we should simply explore through our instincts. A work is art when it captures us for what it is and not just what it saying.

Why do I ask this question? Because its gets at what is fantastic about A Fantastic Woman. The film tells the story of Marina (Daniela Vega) an opera-singing transwoman waitress whose partner Orlando (Franciso Reyes)’s family members become increasingly overt in their displays of violent transphobia. The film is not subtle in its politics. It shines a light on a number of issues including misgendering, the indignities transpeople face when asked to provide government ID, the objectification of transbodies and distrust between trans* communities and the police. The film is sufficiently subtle in exploring different manifestations of transphobia. Sometimes it’s the aggressive queries manchildren; sometimes it’s the saviourism of establishment feminists; and sometimes it’s the stands of religious moralists.

The film is also careful, however, to show that a non-transphobic world is possible. In addition to being close to her sister (Antonia Zegers) Marina also has friend in Orlando’s brother Gabo (Luis Gnecco), despite Gabo (like Orlando) looking the part of an establishment white cisman. While his presence is more subtle, its not much of a stretch to notice that Gabo’s presence in the film is not unlike that of Juan’s (Mahershala Ali’s character) in Moonlight.

So perhaps a Fantastic Woman’s accomplishment is that it’s the rare work that manages to be blatant with its politics without compromising its artistic merits. This is an accomplishment that rests on the film’s good pacing, its memorable characters and occasional ventures into magical realism. That said, perhaps there’s more to the film than meets the eye.

The defining act of transphobic marginalization in A Fantastic Woman is that a number of characters combine to prevent a transwoman from expressing her sadness. It is perhaps this characteristic that makes the pain Marina suffers so indignifying, her tormentors so frustrating and her wanderings so captivating. Marina is a freedom fighter, yet in her pursuit of freedom, the best prize she can take home is a dusky, cobweb covered trophy.

A Fantastic Woman’s melancholy direction doesn’t simply define Marina, but her tormentors as well. The film is set up so that we can believe (if not with certainty) that the transphobia hurled at Marina is itself motivated by grief. Perhaps it is long suppressed bigotry finally seeing the light, or perhaps it is brand-new feelings born from the circumstances. This quality gives the film both political and artistic depth. Politically, it represents the idea of peoples turning to fascism in hard times: of appeasing their sorrows by seeking to assert power over those even more marginalized then themselves. Artistically it gives audiences just a pinch of cognitive dissonance. While it is fairly clear we are not supposed to root for Marina’s tormentors, the fact that they have genuine sorrows, and cite their sorrows to justify their bullying of Marina just makes it the slightest bit uncomfortable to be fully against them (a discomfort we can believe Marina is bothered by as well).

It’s probably true that everything is “political.” It’s also true that “the political” need not just be about politics. A Fantastic Woman is such a work, and a model one at that; it speaks to the ills of this time, but also creates a melancholy interpersonal dynamic that transcends its context.


Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Directed by: Matt Spicer Written by: Spicer and David Brandon Smith

Ingrid_Goes_WestIs this the Aubrey Plaza role to break Aubrey Plaza roles? That opening sentence is called a hook; it gets your attention. Ingrid Goes West works much the same way. We meet Ingrid (Plaza), her murderous eyes under the shadow of a hoodie, as she vengefully lashes out at one of her peers in a pang of Instagram-induced jealousy. We never fully come to understand the origins of this behaviour, but as audiences we experience it in two related ways: 1) as a continuation of the, caustic and sick-of-the-world persona Plaza has come to be associated with and 2) as a distinct version of that persona that is not supposed to be read as a caricature at all. Ingrid is not a twenty-something in a goth phase; she is unwell, scheming and utterly lonely

The bulk of the film’s story depicts Ingrid’s journey as she goes to ridiculous ends to befriend an Instagram celebrity. Instagtram and smart phones shape not only the film’s story, but its aesthetic: a montage of hip meals, neon lights and parties. Ingrid Goes West is certainly not the first movie to prominently depict smartphone usage: slow texting scenes were a mainstay in another 2017 film, Personal Shopper. Ingrid Goes West, however, is notable for its relationship to the present. Her (2013) used our phone culture as a springboard for vaguely related projections about the future. Personal Shopper, meanwhile, is a film of its time, not about its time. Its character’s excessive phone use is simply a realistic depiction of life in the 2010s.  Ingrid Goes West, however shoots its character’s phone use in such a way that audiences are made to feel uncomfortable. We are made to notice just how odd our society’s smartphone addiction looks when it’s blasted onto the bigscreen.

Ingrid eventually winds up in LA, and it is here that the story loses some of its charm. Ingrid essentially transitions from living with her miserable Instagram addiction to living in an Insta-reality. She befriends self-described photographer Taylor (Elizabeth Olson) and her manbunned artist husband Ezra (Wyatt Russel). She also comes to befriend Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr), her young, casually dressed, landlord, whose defining trait is being a Batman nerd. Infatuated with Taylor’s hipster-lavish and carefree lifestyle Ingrid becomes a fairly generic protagonist. Of course, savvy audiences will realize this is all an illusion, but it does have the effect of making Ingrid Goes West, not unlike Colossal or Brigsby Bear as a film whose shortcomings can be attributed to its having a great beginning and end but no middle.

Ingrid Goes West’s effectiveness is further undermined in that we only get to know one of its characters, Ingrid, on a three-dimensional level. To some extent, this makes sense. In a film about the dangerous-shallowness of the Insta-life, Taylor’s stinging superficiality makes perfect sense. Ezra’s underdevelopment more questionable, however. This character is introduced as a privileged-hipster-caricature. The film begins to show that Ezra is unhappy with his role in the insta-world, but this nuance in his personality is eventually abandoned, returning him to the status of place-holder-character.  Again, this writing choice is not all bad; It can be said to be part of the film’s spectrum of superficial portrayals. Taylor is made vane by the superficial, Ingrid is addicted to the superficial and Ezra has the consciousness to question the superficial, but not the consciousness to really understand what his questions are or to act on them .

The film’s 2-D character’s proble, however, is most unforgivable in the case of Dan. Dan’s function in the script is essentially that he exists outside of Taylor’s Insta-world: it is thus dramatic irony when Taylor’s brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) refers to Dan as Ingrid’s “Imaginary Boyfriend.” Because Dan represents an escape from smart-phone superficiality, he is written in a way that lacks nuance. He comes across as perfect: he’s a kind, brave, forgiving, struggling-artist-without-the-financial-troubles.

But as I said, Ingrid Goes West does end brilliantly. As Ingrid’s perfect world falls apart and the Ingrid of old re-emerges, she is no longer scary: audiences will sympathize with her. Furthermore, if they haven’t gotten the message, it will become clear to them that the way we are led to judge Ingrid early in the film is very hypocrtical. She looks absurd as she systematically searches instagram for validation, despite the fact that this behaviour arguably defines our generation. Perhaps, Ingrid Goes West is thus not so much a critique of social media, but how social media interacts with our larger socioeconomic society. The 1% of social media (those making money off their avocado toast photos) are just as “ridiculous” as the Ingrids of the world, yet our social-media-social-class positions can lead us to experience social media addiction very differently.

Viewers should be aware there is a plot-point in the film that makes use of suicide in a way that may make it unsafe viewing for those with active suicidal tendancies. Other viewers should rest assured, however, that in context, this scene is tasteful and very poignant.

Ingrid Goes West is overall an easy-to-follow fable, told from the perspective of a struggling, compelling protagonist. Check it out, and prepare to have your own social media habits uncomfortably put on display

In Search of the Alt-Superhero Film: The Misplaced Hype Around Thor: Ragnorak (2017)

Thor_Ragnarok_poster        I don’t make a point of going to superhero films. I went to Thor: Ragnorak based on rumours that it was something different: that if not one of the funniest films of the year, it was one of the funniest superhero films ever made. I also went because of my interest in its director Taika Waititi, whose What We Do in the Shadows ranks amongst my favourite films of all time, and whose Hunt for the Wilderpeople would have near equal standing in my heart but for my discomfort with hunting.

Unfortunately, while he apparently did some editing, Waititi did not write the script for Ragnorak. Waititi’s influence in the work is certainly noticeable: for example in the understated comedic dialogue in scene I, the appearances by Wilderpeople stars Sam Neil and Rachel House, Waititi’s own character, Korg, etc. Nonetheless, as a whole, the film does not come across as the genre-transforming piece I’d anticipated. It’s not unusual for Superhero Films to employ the odd joke; Spiderman and Iron Man certainly have their sassy sides. Nothing about Ragnorak stands out as going beyond the comedic standards set by these aforementioned sagas. Deadpool with its anti-hero protagonist and regular fourth wall breaking, whatever one thinks of its crassness, was no doubt a more innovative work than Ragnorak.

            Granted, perhaps it is not my place to criticize Ragnorak. Its target audience is not people like me, but avid followers of the Marvael universe who are able to remember who the heck Idris Elba’s character was from the previous Thor films and get excited by action sequences. That said, surely some superhero films, do strive to be transcendently appealing, and with that in mind, I think its worth exploring how Ragnorak falls short.

The story of Ragnorak is essentially that Thor’s evil sister, Hela the goddess of death, (Cate Blanchett) breaks out of Asgardian prison and declares herself Queen of Asgard, and then promptly starts a killing spree. Thor and a his god-of-mischief-brother Loki must work to overthrow her, but along the way Thor is captured on behalf of another planet’s villainous “Grandmaster” (Jeff Goldblum) where he is detained to participate in prize-fights. This high stakes plot stands in stark contrast to Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, a documentary about vampires who eat some people, befriend others and go to an awkward party. The simplicity of this plot means that it derives its life from the personalities of its characters: the unexplainable awe the vampires hold for an IT worker named Stu, their fear of being exposed by non-humans (except the ones making the documentary) and their house rules and flat meetings. Ragnorak, by contrast, calls on its characters to overcome their quirks to participate in a high stakes, big budget battle to the death. While the battle scenes are not free of funny moments (Eg Thor suddenly remembering mid battle he is the god of thunder), they ultimately serve to divert the film from its comic potential.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople, provides another lens through which Ragnorak can be critiqued. That film does have a high stakes plot (a boy and his gruff, adopted father take to the woods to avoid his being found by child services). Unlike Ragnorak, however, Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s central antagonists are funny. Thor Ragnorak has no lack of silly bad guys. Goldblum’s character is whimsical and arbitrary in his tyranny. Loki, as god of mischief, is Thor’s friend one second, and his playful enemy the next. The film, however finds its sense of direction in the character’s confrontation with Hela, a conventional, clad in darkness villain who kills mercilessly in pursuit of power, leaving the more amusing Thor vs Loki (or even Thor vs Grandmaster) dynamics, underdeveloped.

My disappointment with Ragnorak is indeed largely attributable to its reputation as comedic, a reputation, I would argue, it fails to live up to. Its flaws, however, can more broadly be attributed not to how much humor it has, but the non-impact of the humor on the film’s skeletal plot structure.

Since seeing Ragnorak, I have also taken the time to see M. Night Shymalan’s UnbreakableposterwillisUnbreakable. The latter film is incomparable to Ragnorak in that it does not aspire to be comedic. Nonetheless, the contrast between these two works illustrates what it takes to make an interesting superhero film. Shyamalan has described the film as an “origin story that the audience doesn’t know is an origin story until its last image.” Unbreakable, thus satisfies audiences by taking traditional constructs (heroes and villains) and sneakily forcing viewers to reimagine them. Ragnorak may have its creative moments, but it is ultimately still the story of a hero overcoming (by his standards not overwhelming) odds to take on a plain-stated villain.

Unbreakable is also an interesting example of how a work can quickly redeem itself. Much of the film lies in an emotional grey zone: the character’s are clearly dealing with serious issues, yet these issues don’t always seem serious enough to feel like they’re going anywhere. When the film all comes together at its end, however, audiences are able to retrospectively appreciate the whole work. Unbreakable stands out in that its hero’s self-doubt is his defining feature (rather than the more typical lingering-back-of-the-mind concern). Its villain, meanwhile, stands out in that we get to know them almost entirely for their endearing personality and only minimally for their villainy. Unbreakable closes by taking its viewers into a novel emotional space. When it finally creates a confrontation between good and evil it is not exciting or nerve wracking, but tragically beautiful.

Ragnorak may make audiences laugh, but audiences will not laugh at its central thesis: the confrontation of Hela and Thor. The world needs more films like Unbreakable, or even Deadpool. If Marvel studios is going to keep riding on the talents of directors like Waititi, it should consider giving them the creative space to truly develop the superhero genre.

Mother! (2017)

Written and directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Mother!2017There are indie films that challenge you to take pleasure in raw sound effects, awkward human interactions and mundanely beautiful settings. There are big budget action films replete with explosions and chaos. Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is an overwhelming blend of both. The film has earned praise and scorn alike, yet if viewed in a vacuum one can appreciate it as a work that unites audiences: its subtlety and melodrama are so smoothly connected that viewers who come to see one level of intensity can leave having appreciated another.


Mother! admittedly did not win me over right away. The film makes use of handheld cameras, and “Mother” (Jennifer Lawrence)’s constant walks up spiral staircases can be dizzying. The initial appearance of Mother’s husband, “Him” (Javier Bardem) is also off-putting. The character seems under-acted: he is calm compared to the regularly anxious Mother, and normal compared to the quirky houseguests they soon come to deal with. Him does not come across as a mild-mannered person, but as someone out-of-step with the realism of the piece: like a rookie-actor reading lines. Bardem, of course, is no rookie. Without giving away too much, it should be said that his disconcerting performance is in fact praiseworthy, for his character indeed has a different relationship to realism than that of his fellow characters.


The indie-realist side of Mother! is essential to its disjointed, narrative structure. The film is slow to develop a clear plot trajectory. I ts story develops as, slowly at first, various strangers show up and decide to reside at Mother and Him’s house. The first guest (Ed Harris) is a somewhat peculiar, dying man. He is later joined by his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), who’s eccentricness is far more obnoxious and threatening than Harris’. Were the film to end after the seemingly final confrontation between Mother, Him and this couple, it would be a passable, stand alone work. Pfeiffer is a compelling antagonist, and her lack-of-boundaries in contrast to Mother’s decency foreshadows the drama that follows.


It is after Pfeiffer’s departure, however, that the film becomes truly compelling. Mother!’s story proceeds to explore issues from celebrity, to artistry, to late capitalism and borders, becoming more and more disturbing as it proceeds. While it is certainly not pleasant to watch, the film’s strength is that it never reaches a point where it runs out of ideas: there is always a new twist, always a new tragedy. Kristen Wiig, for example, is introduced as a striking recurring character as the film nears its conclusion, illustrating the film’s tireless plotline.


Mother!’s grandiosity has led some critics to write it off as pretentious and self-centred, with some claiming that it is Aronofsky’s arrogant attempt to portray the challenge of a writer (Bardem) working with his muse (Lawrence). This critique misses the obvious fact, that Mother! is, for the most part, Mother’s story, not Him’s. While Bardem’s character ultimately has power over Lawrence’s, it is of a god-like nature: he exists on a different level, and his morality operates on a different time scale. Him’s divine status is what shapes Bardem’s portrayal of him as a distant figure: sure he is powerful, but his power is precisely what means the story is not his, but that of his wife.


Mother! is an imaginative work, but is effective because it appeals to audiences on a baser level. I left the cinema mouth agape: how did it have the audacity to go in that direction, I asked myself? If gore and handheld cameras do not put you off, worry not about the pretentiousness and give Mother! a try.

The Florida Project (2017)

Written and directed by: Sean Baker

The_Florida_ProjectLook at the poster for Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. Above a rainbow you’ll see a tagline in small white font: “find your kingdom.” Baker has a knack for producing dark comedies, and in the case of The Florida Project, he’s produced a rainbow-colored dark comedy. The tagline thus serves as an important invitation: an invitation to see the film through the awestruck eyes of its child stars, rather than to simply lament in its misery.


The film tells the story of Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) a 6-year-old girl who lives in a motel with her young mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). Moonee is immersed in a small community of her friends: Scooty, Dicky and Jancey (Christopher Rivera, Aiden Malick and Valeria Cotto) who accompany her on adventures. Moonee’s main interests seem to be mischief and breakfast food. Her mischievous-side leads her to have regular run ins with the motels’ sometimes fatherly, sometimes pragmatic and opaque manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe), and to cause trouble for her mother.


Living just outside of Disneyworld, Moonee is able to lead her friends through a series of quasi-palatial structures: a restaurant/store with a giant orange on top, another store decorated with a giant wizard’s head, and an ice cream-shaped-ice-cream-stand where she can get “free” ice cream. The motel itself is called the magic castle and despite being a rundown “dump,” it still stuns with its faux-turrets and light-purple color. To some degree, these visuals signify Moonee’s childhood naivety. She does not know she lives in poverty because in her head she lives in a castle. That said, the film is clearly one that prides itself in its visuals. Its intent is clearly for audiences to both feel sorry for Moonee and to take genuine pleasure in enjoying her kingdom which stuns despite its desolate, highway location.


Moonee is not the only one who lives in a fantasy world. Her mother Halley also savours the reckless freedom she can find, despite constantly being under pressure to put money together. Many of the perks of Moonee’s kingdom are in fact, put in place by Halley, who facilitates various ways for Moonee to get free breakfast and explore her community. The film emphasizes Halley’s similarty to Moonee, by contrasting Halley with her with her friend Ashley (Mela Murder), a fellow motel-dwelling-young-mother who shows more concern about her kid, Scooty’s, behaviour.Halley is precariously (to put it mildly) employed, and has a penchant for vulgarity that makes it hard for her to win sympathizers.


Unlike Moonee’s story, which permits audiences to separate the beautiful from the tragic, Halley’s story is more thoroughly disheartening. Halley regularly gets herself into trouble as a result of her rebellious, profanity laden speech. While at first Halley’s expletives seem like more adult-versions of Moonee’s gleeful cries of “biatch,” the film eventually makes it apparent that Halley’s vernacular is a deep part of her existence. As Halley’s story becomes more tragic, audiences are forced to struggle with the notion that while Halley could seemingly improve her standing with others by cutting down on the swears, it may in fact be impossible for Halley to speak any other way.


It is the complex nature of Halley’s “wild” behaviour that shapes the tragic side of The Florida Project. Halley’s struggles stem from the fact that the traits that make her a bad mom and good mom are highly inseparable: she feeds her child by stealing, she teaches her child bad manners to protect her from equally obnoxious adults, etc.


Aside from Dafoe, The Florida Project relies on a cast of rookie actors. This use of unknown voices is part of director Sean Baker’s broader vision of telling untold stories. The Florida Project tells the unknown story of impoverished-motel-dwellers, and through Halley it provocatively explores the causes of cycles of poverty. Despite these sombre ambitions, however, the film also tells the (semi-)unknown story of a child’s imagination. In doing so it masterfully presents a product rooted in gritty, tragic realism that in its own way finds its fairy tale happily ever after.