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Carolyn Van Houten The Washington Post

Some of the best movies in history have dealt with characters who were just barely scraping by — “Bicycle Thieves” and “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Midnight Cowboy” and “Modern Times.” But filmmakers today tend to avert their eyes from the horrors of financial hardship. Superhero stories are just more photogenic.

Sean Baker is one exception. He gravitates toward overlooked subjects, such as the black transgender prostitutes at the center of his acclaimed low-budget marvel “Tangerine” in 2015. His latest feature, the rapturously received “The Florida Project,” is about homelessness, and could be a blueprint for filmmakers who want to explore social issues because of the savvy way it’s captivating audiences: It may be the most joyful movie about poverty ever screened.

That’s because it’s told from the perspective of Moonee, played by 7-year-old Brooklynn Prince. Moonnee and her mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite) live in the purple-painted Magic Castle motel, a stone’s throw from Disney World, and they’re part of Florida’s hidden homeless population — people who don’t have prospects for permanent housing so they resort to couch surfing with relatives or find other temporary alternatives. That means, statistically, they often aren’t counted as homeless.

According to Shelley Lauten, the chief executive of the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, the movie is important not just because it depicts characters without stable housing, but because it shows the non-stereotypical side of a nationwide epidemic. This isn’t about the physically or mentally ill middle-aged man living under a bridge.

“It’s what I call our tsunami of homelessness,” she said over the phone recently. “It’s the group that, across the country, we’re not doing a very good job of figuring out how to stabilize.”

According to a recent JP Morgan Chase study, in Florida alone,

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