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Willem Dafoe, left, and Brooklynn Prince in a scene from The Florida Project.

A24/The Associated Press

3.5 out of 4 stars

Title
The Florida Project
Written by
Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch
Directed by
Sean Baker
Starring
Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite
Genre
Drama
Classification
18A
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2017

After reaching unprecedented highs with 2015's Tangerine, director Sean Baker again turns to those making do on the fringes of society with The Florida Project. The material could easily slip into a fetishization of poverty – claims that dogged The Florida Project's most immediate comparison, last year's American Honey – but Baker is too smart and unsentimental for that charge to stick.

Instead, he turns a careful, nuanced eye to the young children running amok around a discount Orlando motel, mostly six-year-old Moonee (the remarkable Brooklynn Prince), who spends her day both dodging and creating trouble. Overseeing the scene is the exhausted but kind-hearted hotel manager Bobby (a never-better Willem Dafoe), a protector of misfits and punisher of monsters.

A few notes hit the expected chords a little too hard – the film takes place at a motel called the Magic Castle, in the shadow of the Disney behemoth – but Baker mostly crafts a tiny adventure of absorbing wonder.

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