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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Florida Project is an ultrarealistic drama about a trio of largely unsupervised young kids who live in cheap Orlando-area motels, just minutes away from Walt Disney World. The kids engage in all sorts of slightly scary, free-range antics -- running around by themselves, entertaining themselves with daring adventures, and occasionally getting into and causing trouble. The adults around them often curse, smoke, and drink -- frequently in front of the kids. There's strong language ("f--k," "s--t," and more), very iffy behavior (the kids accidentally start a fire, for example, and don't understand they should show remorse for their actions), sexual innuendo (one character becomes a sex worker), and mature themes (poverty, child protection, prostitution, etc.) that make the film best for older teens and up. But ultimately it does promote empathy in the way it portrays its characters.
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What's the story?
THE FLORIDA PROJECT focuses on a trio of young, largely unsupervised kids whose families live in cheap motels just minutes away from Walt Disney World, outside Orlando. Six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is a resident of the Magic Castle Motel, a purple, bedbug-infested place that would love to cater to tourists but actually attracts unemployed or working-class folks who can't afford security deposits. For $38 a night, Moonee and her young, laid-back mom, Halley (Bria Vinaite), live there for all but one night each month (the one-night-off rule prevents them from establishing residency and triggering tenants' rights). Moonee spends her school-free summer days roaming around Kissimmee, Florida, with her downstairs neighbor, Scooty (Christopher Rivera), whose mom, Ashley (Mela Murder), is a diner waitress who hooks Moonee and Halley up with daily bags of food in exchange for babysitting. Scooty and Moonee also hang out with Jancey (Valeria Cotto), a girl who lives with her young grandma in the motel next door. Presiding over the Magic Castle is its stoic manager, Bobby (Willem Dafoe), who finds himself serving as a reluctant father figure to his motley crew of guest residents.
Is it any good?
Director Sean Baker's incredibly powerful drama is a shockingly realistic look at modern-day "little rascals" who live in poverty but still experience the joy and humor of childhood. Dimpled troublemaker Moonee looks like a cherub, but she and sidekicks Scooty and Jancey (a direct reference to all the quirky, rhyming names of the original gang) are up for adventures big and small, whether it's soliciting for money outside an ice cream shop (they love sharing their soft-serve cones), sharing jelly sandwiches courtesy of the weekly mobile pantry, or exploring abandoned real estate developments. Their parents and guardians might be broke, and their situations might look miserable from the outside, but these kids know how to make their own fun. What's remarkable is how Baker never judges his characters. Halley and Ashley (who at the very least has a steady gig at the diner) don't make middle-class soccer-mom choices, but they love their children and will do anything (even if that means hooking or losing a friend) to keep their kids with them.
Dafoe gives an award-worthy performance as Bobby, the put-upon but somehow patient motel manager who must have faced his own struggles to end up working at the Magic Castle. He barks at the guests, particularly Halley, who's repeatedly late with her rent, but he's clearly empathic -- especially toward the kids. As Moonee and Halley, Prince and Vinaite (whom the filmmakers found via Instagram) share a heartbreaking mother-and-daughter chemistry. Halley makes so many iffy decisions that the climactic sequence seems nearly inevitable from the movie's outset. But viewers will feel gutted as the final scene unfolds, a dose of happily-ever-after optimism for kids -- and people -- who usually remain overlooked on and off the screen.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Florida Project depicts poverty. Do you think it's realistic?
Director Sean Baker has been applauded for not judging his characters. What does that mean to you? Do you think the characters are all worthy of empathy and understanding?
Do you consider any of the characters to be role models? Why or why not? What choices do you think you'd make in their position?
The film could be seen as a tribute to the Little Rascals. Discuss the various ways the kids are the stars of the movie.
- In theaters: October 6, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: February 20, 2018
- Cast: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite
- Director: Sean Baker
- Studio: A24
- Genre: Drama
- Character Strengths: Empathy
- Run time: 115 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout, disturbing behavior, sexual references and some drug material
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