The Florida Project

The Florida Project ★★★★

"The Florida Project" teems with authenticity as it chronicles one Summer in the life of 6-year-old Moonie, who lives with her degenerate mother in a tacky motel on the outskirts of Disneyworld. Moonie skips through life with a few friends, holding impromptu spitting matches, panhandling for ice cream money and setting fire to an abandoned house, all without a moment's thought as to the consequences of her behavior. This is perhaps the film's biggest asset, something not normally acknowledged in similar movies: that sometimes, cute kids can be assholes.

Moonie comes by it honestly. Her mother, Halley, is a malignant narcissist who comes unglued if she thinks the world isn't catering to her whims (which often happens). She's completely self-absorbed, petty and psychotically vindictive. Add to that her refusal to even consider seeking legit employment, preferring to con, steal and turn tricks. The one time she does punish Moonie for an infraction, she does it as if more upset about the interruption of her routine than about her daughter's rudeness. Her one saving grace is that she genuinely loves Moonie, although she appears to see her more as a playmate than her child (understandable given that their maturity level is about the same).

Moonie's one source of stability is Bobby, the motel's manager, who has to continually rein the child in while still tending to his regular duties. Played by the great Willem Dafoe, his gruff exterior hides a heart of gold, and he routinely cuts Moonie and her mom a break, even when it's not really appreciated, and he's probably aware, at least subconsciously, that he's merely enabling them. He also looks out for her, in a particular scene where he deals with a strange man who's making creepy overtures to Moonie and her pals.

The movie has no real plot, although things come to a head in a shocking and bittersweet conclusion, when Moonie finally comes to the end of her holiday from reality. At that moment, Bobby mournfully stands in front of his motel, smoking a cigarette, fully aware of one fact that he is helpless to change: Moonie, like her mother before her, is a walking time bomb, drifting toward a slow explosion.

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