The Florida Project

The Florida Project ★★★★½

A devastatingly complex portrait of those typically resigned to being swept clean under the rug, The Florida Project's warm heart shines through even the darkest of moments.

Much like his last feature (2015's exquisite Tangerine), the ace in the hole for Baker here is the uncompromising empathy he harnesses with his camera. No matter whether following young Moonee (fearless leader of a rag tag band of Floridian children who live in dingy motels on Disney World's outskirts), her unemployable but always loving mother, Halley (eternally fighting to make ends meet for the two of them), or Bobby, the guardian angel-cum-manager of their humble highway-side abode, it never pauses to judge--rather, reality is presented as just that.

Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite are powerhouse revelations alongside a never warmer or (for that matter) better Willem Dafoe, each conjuring a palpable naturalism that only adds to the inherent beauty of the proceedings. Baker challenges us to explore the often good, sometimes bad, occasionally ugly, and relatably mundane with these characters, but--against all odds--the one thing that never leaves, even for a frame, is the magic.

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