Bobby’s moment comes when a man wanders into the motel parking lot and heads straight for the scuffed picnic tables that have become one of the makeshift playgrounds for the children who call the Magic Castle home. Bobby spots the man, identifies him as a threat, and leads him away from the children, scaring him off and sending him running without making a violent scene. What this sequence makes most plain, far beyond the satisfaction that comes from witnessing Bobby’s rare chance to act as an unambiguous protector, is how little stability this world is capable of offering, and how much it is still possible to lose when you have almost nothing.
This is the drama of The Florida Project: not a quest moving forward, but a period of safety falling apart. We start at a moment when things are OK, or as OK as they can be: Moonee roams the grounds around the Futureland Inn and the Magic Castle, shares free ice cream with her friends, and delights in the attraction of Bobby trying to persuade a tenant to put her bathing suit top back on; and Halley and her own friend—Scooty’s mother, Ashley—walk, arms around each other, into the Orlando night. Watching them leave the Magic Castle, you fear for them as much as you fear for their children when they run alongside the highway: they are just as vulnerable, and just as adrift in a world where there is little room for them, a world that was not made with their safety in mind.