Bad parenting, precocious kids, motel managers, and the outside world of Disney World collide in “The Florida Project,” a throughly riveting drama from writer/director Sean Baker.
The movie is more of a character study: focusing on struggling parents with fowl language, tattoos, and scams for rent money. That means their kids can con people money for ice cream, and spit on people’s cars for fun. And as irritated as you are at this, you’re eating up the true nature of it all.
We meet Moonee (newcomer Brooklyn Prince), a 6-year-old, who spends time with her little friends around their motel and other places they can cause mischief at. From another motel, she befriends Jancey (newcomer Valeria Cotto), and shows her Orlando from her point of view.
Another newcomer is Bria Vinaite as Moonee’s tattoo-wearing, struggling, and fowl-mouthed mother, who sells perfume in golf club parking lots to keep a roof over their heads. She even has to a con a guy (Macon Blair) by selling VIP bracelets, and stealing them back from him.
You already know this guy: Willem Dafoe plays the motel’s manager, who always has to deal with the kids and the mother’s behavior. We see him go through life with the tenants and guests, and if you look beneath it all, he’s actually a nice guy.
“The Florida Project” is well-acted, very funny, and gripping on all accounts. I saw this at the New York Film Festival, and I needed to process what I have saw. Prince and Viniaite are both great newcomers in a year of fine female newbies (Dafne Keen in “Logan” and Amiah Miller in “War for the Planet of the Apes,” etc.). And every scene with Dafoe is either funny or electrifying.
Again, it’s not much of a story, but it’s more of a character or environment study: the people who live there, and why they behave like that. Sean Baker has outdone himself.
And I can’t say what or why, but you’ll love how the movie chooses to close itself.