The Florida Project: Is Halley a Good Mother?

The Florida Project,’ a movie about a world-weary life told through a juxtaposing lens of a child’s whimsy, presents a raw and rich story about poverty and the complications it imparts, especially to young parents. The film takes place over a summer in a low-end Floridian motel, The Magical Castle, popular among financially stricken families. One of the residents, Moonee, a six-year-old mischievous girl, lives there with her mother, Halley, and routinely causes trouble for the stern but kind-hearted motel manager, Bobby. As the summer unfolds, Moonee makes new friends and gets in new trouble while her mother struggles to earn a viable living.

Much of the story deals with the contrast between Moonee, a happy and carefree child, and the reality of her life with Halley, which decidedly remains anything but free of care. For the same reason, certain instances within the film may lead people to question Halley’s parenting, especially the film’s end, which effectively declares the young mother unfit to look after her daughter. Consequently, one can’t help but wonder: was Halley really a good mother? SPOILERS AHEAD!

Halley’s Relationship With Moonee

At first glance, ‘The Florida Project’ pitches a bleak premise, a story about a single mother and her young daughter spending their summer at a run-down motel mere hours away from the place dubbed as the “happiest place on Earth.” However, even as Moonee spends her days in the ironic shadows of the magical Disney World, she still finds joy in her everyday life. Whether through grossly juvenile games with fellow residential kids or scoring “free ice cream” by begging strangers to buy them a scoop, Moonee knows how to find happiness.

Given Moonee’s innate disposition as a happy kid, there’s not much one can do to argue that Halley doesn’t love or support her daughter. Halley has built a mother-daughter relationship with Moonee that borders on friendship. Moonee loves her mother and is acutely aware of the love she receives in return. Despite their less-than-stellar living circumstances, Halley never lets her daughter learn about her underprivileged status.

Halley wants her daughter to have a happy and safe life and shows up for her in all instances that she can. Sure, she may not be able to buy her daughter an ice cream cone some days, but she always stands up for her daughter when the need arises. The woman never allows her daughter to feel alone and continues to work hard to provide her with a good life. As such, the one pebble in Halley’s path remains her helpless ability to meet the criteria she needs to afford her daughter a regular life.

Halley’s Unpleasant Circumstances

At the story’s start, Halley is recently out of a job after losing her gig at the strip club. Therefore, with a non-existent source of income, Halley doesn’t have a lot of means to provide for her daughter. Furthermore, her lack of options after getting fired as a stripper suggests that the woman likely doesn’t have any other monetizable skills to fall back on. When it comes to Halley and Moonee’s financial situation, it’s important to remember that the former is a single mom in her 20s.

Halley’s age already puts her at a disadvantage, robbing her of job opportunities other parents might be able to entertain. Since the woman probably had Moonee as a teenager, she likely didn’t get a chance to pursue higher education. Furthermore, her own immaturity, a side effect of her age, demands certain things from her personality. As a result, the woman has a hard time holding down jobs.

Furthermore, the lack of a partner or any adult help suggests that Halley is well and truly alone in her life, with not even Moonee’s unnamed father or her own parents to rely on. The woman has a stark lack of support in her life at an age when she sorely needs it. On top of the same, she needs to be a pillar for her own daughter. These details allow us to have a perspective on Halley’s character and the amount of strain she is under.

Nevertheless, Halley refuses to crumble under the pressure and continues to try for her daughter. At first, she attempts to sell counterfeit perfumes at high-end hotels to earn some cash. While the business is initially beneficial, it doesn’t last long due to its flimsy nature. As such, Halley finds herself running out of options and in strict and urgent need of money to keep a roof over her family’s head.

Thus, despite her better judgment, Halley resorts to sex work conducted out of her motel room while keeping her daughter locked inside the bathroom. Even though Halley never lets Moonee learn about her work or allow any harm to befall her child, she still puts the kid in a carelessly dangerous situation. For the same reason, once her business dealings become common knowledge at the motel, it’s only a matter of time before someone calls the DCF on the young mother.

Ultimately, the DCF, The Florida Department of Children and Families, expectedly concludes that Halley can’t provide a safe environment for her kid. Although this decree should be a sign of Halley’s undisputed position as a bad mother, the verdict can’t be that simple, especially after the viewers have spent almost two hours witnessing Moonee’s childhood. Despite every complication and hardship, Moonee indisputably has a happy childhood.

Halley may not be able to provide the kind of environment Moonee needs for her development, but the woman’s desperate love for her child remains blazingly evident. As such, the only productive way to pass judgment on Halley’s performance as a parent is to recognize that even though the woman went above and beyond in doing her best for Moonee, she simply couldn’t be what a kid needs during their young age.

Read More: Is The Florida Project Based on a True Story?