The Florida Project

Brooklynn Prince, left, and Bria Vinaite star in "The Florida Project."

A24

“The Florida Project,” one of the most astonishing films of the year, is playing only at a theater in Muscatine at the moment.

If you live in Muscatine, lucky you. If you live outside of Muscatine, this film is worth the drive.

The movie is about people who don’t go to movies. They are marginalized, the working poor, the fixed-income residents of low-rent motels.

Director Sean Baker (“Tangerine”) trains his eye on a little family in one such hotel on the outskirts of Disneyland. Moonee (the amazing newcomer Brooklynn Prince) lives with her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) in a hotel room, where they watch television much of the time.

We see Moonee and her friends as they spit on another guest’s car from a balcony. Finally, they are reported, and Moonee makes a new friend when she meets the granddaughter of the victim, who eventually is charmed by the little girl.

If it weren’t for Halley’s friend, who gives Moonee free food regularly, the two wouldn’t have much to eat. But neither of them worries too much about that. Moonee and her best friend Scooty (Christopher Rivera) hang around the hotel, much to the dismay of the staff and other guests, who shoo them away, when they aren’t taking them into unsupervised and often dangerous territory.

Halley always seems to be behind on her rent. The kindly, street-smart manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) tries to support the residents, including Halley, as best he can. But there comes a point when he must ask guests to leave —and Halley is nearing that point.

Halley ekes out a living as best she can. She has been a dancer from time to time. Now, after she tries to peddle perfume at a posh hotel, she needs to consider what she will do to support her child.

Moonee has friends and fun, and seemingly can’t wait to see what the next moment has in store. She makes a game or an adventure out of just about everything, always with her special brand of sass that endears her to several people. They include Bobby, who tries to keep an eye on her and her friends while they scamper around the property.

There isn’t a bad moment in this movie. Not surprisingly, the capable Dafoe owns every scene in which he appears. We see in his character’s eyes the sympathy he feels for the children around him. This is Dafoe’s finest role, and it deserves an Oscar nod if not the statuette for Best Supporting Actor.

It’s a remarkable performance in a remarkable film.

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