‘The Florida Project’ reviews: Critics say Willem Dafoe has never been better than in this ‘captivating’ film

The Florida Project” opened October 6 as one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, as of this writing receiving a MetaCritic score of 93 and 96% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes. That puts it at the forefront of the Oscar conversation, particularly for the performance by Willem Dafoe, who is the currently frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor. He’s been nominated twice before, for supporting performances in “Platoon” (1986) and “Shadow of the Vampire” (2000), but the prolific actor has yet to win.

Dafoe was “never better” than he is in “Florida Project,” according to critics. He plays Bobby, the manager of the Magic Castle, a motel in the shadow of Disney World that houses tourists as well as poor families that can’t afford to live anywhere else. The film especially focuses on young Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), who often wanders the motel unsupervised while her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) hustles in any way she can to keep a roof over their heads.

The film was directed by Sean Baker, who made a breakthrough with his previous film, “Tangerine” (2015), which was famously shot on iPhones. His latest is being called “ray, exuberant and utterly captivating.” It establishes its setting so well that it “begins to feel like your home.” It’s “near-perfect” and avoids the “traps of condescension and prurience” of other films about poverty. And young lead actress Prince is a startling discovery.

Check out some of the reviews for the film below, and discuss this and more with your fellow movie fans in our forums.

Justin Chang (Los Angeles Times): “All childhoods must come to an end, few of them as piercingly as the one in ‘The Florida Project,’ Sean Baker’s raw, exuberant and utterly captivating new movie. The child in question is a wild and irrepressible 6-year-old girl named Moonee, played by a startling discovery named Brooklynn Kimberly Prince.”

Alissa Wilkinson (Vox): “Baker’s skill as a loving humanist chronicler of America’s garish forgotten places has ripened into something truly marvelous … As the film goes on, a narrative starts to form, one that chronicles with heartbreaking detail the sorts of dilemmas that poor parents and their children face in America, and the broken systems that try to add structure to impossible situations.”

Emily Yoshida (Vulture): “Baker’s approach is to immerse you so deep in a place, and the patter of the people who live there, that it begins to feel like your home … This is a near-perfect film, and a heightening in every way of everything that was great about Baker’s last movie. The freshness of the future, indeed.”

A.O. Scott (New York Times): “To balance joy and desperation as gracefully as Mr. Baker does — to interweave giddiness and heartbreak — is no easy feat. ‘The Florida Project’ could easily have been cruel and exploitative, punishing its characters for their wildness and the audience for enjoying it. But the director … avoids the traps of condescension and prurience that ensare too many well-meaning movies about poverty in America.”

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