With a Rotten Tomatoes rating in the nineties "The Florida Project" comes initially as a shock – possibly a disappointment.
We are right in the middle of a bunch of doubtless loveable but noisy and unruly kids, living in the overcrowded rooms of a seedy motel, looked after by hopeless, hapless and helpless single parents, some virtually kids themselves. And we wonder why we need to be part of a scene that we would normally strive to avoid.
But soon we realise that this is the point of the whole movie.
Slowly but surely we get to know the kids, and the parents. The director, Sean Baker, does not judge – not overtly at any rate.
Six-year-old Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) is part of a gaggle of kids running unchecked around the seedy sprawl circling a Disney amusement park, hustling hand-outs from fast food joints, pan-handling tips from tourists, and unintentionally creating mayhem in a derelict housing project. Street-wise and innocent, they tug at our heart-strings. Brooklyn, in particular, is an astonishing young actress, conveying joy, mischief, love and heart-break unforgettably. Her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) can't keep a job and gets her money from selling cheap perfumes in the car-park of an up-market hotel.
Bobby, the long-suffering manager of the seedy motel (Willem Dafoe) is the nearest thing to a father figure that the kids have. His portrayal of a decent man struggling to keep a job and make a living, while doing his best to help Halley and the kids, is one of the stand-outs of the movie. He is tipped to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this performance.
The movie builds, scene upon scene, an awareness of who these people are.
Len Loach's "Cathy Come Home" and "I, Daniel Blake" come to mind as similar searing portraits of decent people crushed by circumstances and a judgemental and tone-deaf social network. Except that "The Florida Project" doesn't spell it out, doesn't "preach".
It shows. It tells. And leaves us to make what sense we can of it, while retaining the image of a heart-broken little girl.