The “poverty in America” sub-genre of Hollywood dramas have become more frequent and relevant in an era where stark income inequality has beset not only the United States, but many other countries as well.

‘The Florida Project’ Blu-Ray Review

Director Sean Baker’s The Florida Project follows recent movies like Oscar-winning Moonlight that depict — whether as the main focus or as a backdrop — the struggles of single parents attempting but failing to properly raise their children in a rough environment.

Baker’s (who directed the low-budget 2015 film Tangerine, a movie about a transgender prostitute that was shot entirely on an iPhone) new indie picture tells of life in a motel near Orlando, Florida, called The Magic Castlesituated just miles outside the wonderful universe that is Disney World (which was originally called The Florida Project). Most of the story is told from the perspective of a precocious six-year-old girl named Moonee (newcomer Brooklynn Prince), who finds creative ways to enjoy her summer at the motel with other children her age while her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) desperately tries to make ends meet, just like many other of the tenants of The Magic Castle, who pay rent on a weekly basis.

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Often intervening to ensure both Moonee and her ragtag group of friends and Halley respect the motel rules is the beleaguered yet kind manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe), who is as protective of the children as he could possibly be.

The Florida Project certainly has much humanity in its story, and makes your emotions waver in an unexpectedly frequent way. Ms. Prince and Ms. Vinaite both display powerful performances, (particularly the former) for being first-time actors, and Mr. Dafoe also has some great moments. The fact that it portrays the poverty of a world that is not often seen by middle-income or affluent Americans — because it’s in a motel and not on the street or on a park bench like a homeless person — is laudable.

Nevertheless, the film is both clunky in its pacing and oddly pieced together. One could argue that a documentary (or even a documentary miniseries) about this subject — perhaps interspersed with interviews of people who have actually lived in such rudimentary conditions or with individuals who have interacted with these types of people — may have perhaps been better suited to address this issue. What we get instead is a very slow setup the first half of the movie, followed by a rushed sequence of events in the latter portion.

One expects there may be a life-altering event that hits the protagonists at some point in the film, and there is. However, this event plays out almost exactly like one would expect. At least the ending is open-ended, even though it seems far from plausible.

Blu-Ray special features include “Under the Rainbow: Making The Florida Project,” Bloopers and Outtakes (something rather unexpected for such a dreary film), and interviews with the cast and crew.

Dafoe has received Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a man with a gruff exterior who ends up revealing a softer side. Though his turn is noteworthy, it’s certainly not at a level one would guess merits an Oscar win.

Mr. Baker undoubtedly portrays many different aspects about a side of America’s reality that goes unnoticed, and that in itself makes The Florida Project a standout venture. The way in which he presents it, nonetheless, is weakly planned. Once again: is there hope for more documentaries on this subject?