There are three primary characters through whose perspective we experience the narrative in The Florida Project: Moonee, Halley, and Bobby — in that order of time spent from each character’s POV and relative importance to the plot. But it seems clear that Moonee is the Protagonist:

  • The Protagonist usually goes on some sort of physical / emotional journey.
  • That journey creates the spine of the plot.
  • The Protagonist’s goal almost always dictates the story’s end point.
  • All the other major characters are linked to the Protagonist and his/her journey.
  • Of all the story’s characters, the Protagonist generally undergoes the most significant personal metamorphosis.

Moonee fits the bill on each of these accounts. Her journey is one we can consider innocence to experience which is ironic in the extreme considering the fact she lives in a state of relative poverty throughout the story. How does she have such an upbeat, fun-seeking attitude at the beginning of the story? Probably equal parts being a child and her ‘plucky’ personality. Maybe, too, since we may assume this type of life is pretty much all she’s ever known, her ordinary world, which may be fraught with discomfort, even danger from our perspective, is for HER a land of wonder, a playground.

There’s a series of shots in Act One, wherein her Ordinary World gets established, in which Moonee and Scooty introduce Jancey to the neighborhood. The trio passes by one cartoon-like business facade after another. This excerpt shows just two of them, but gives you the idea: From a kids’ POV and in their imagination, they may think they’re living in a sort Magical Kingdom.

That may be the starting point, a kind of childlike innocence about their actual living circumstances, but as the story progresses and things devolve, Moonee’s world shrinks. Almost quite literally as she spends more and more time with Halley… in the motel room… in the bath while her mother pulls tricks in the next room. The harsh realities of their lifestyle come more and more to the foreground of Moonee’s experience until ultimately, it all comes crashing down at the very end.

Some people have complained about the denouement — Jancey and Moonee racing off to Disneyworld in a sort of hyper-reality sequence (shaky cam, the only time in the movie there is soundtrack orchestration). To me, that is the perfect ending. It’s a flight of a child’s fancy (Jancey), her way of resolving the immediate problem. I know for a fact, having screened the movie here at DePaul followed by a Q&A with the film’s co-writer and director Sean Baker that he and his fellow writer Chris Bergoch had that ending in mind from nearly the very beginning of the story-crafting process.

As far as the other characters are concerned, how about this:

Attractor: Jancey
Mentor: Bobby
Trickster: Halley, Ashley

It’s easy to default to the Case Worker and Investigator as Nemesis characters. Certainly, as far as Halley is concerned, that’s the case. But I’m thinking there’s a bigger Nemesis at work in this story: poverty. It hangs over EVERYTHING in the story, the relentless need for money for the most meager of subsistence lifestyles, and always a threat to crush the hidden homeless. It’s what drives Halley to make the choices she does which result in Moonee being taken from her.

Final comment re characters: As noted in my comments about the film in general and its structure, there’s a real indie feel to the film and that extends to the characters. Sean Baker only cast two real actors (Brooklynn Prince who is amazing as Moonee and Willem Dafoe as Bobby), all the others are ‘real’ people. In fact, the person who played Halley (Bria Vinaite), Sean discovered on Instagram. Those casting choices really helped give the film a sense of authenticity per the subculture of the hidden homeless.

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