Darren Carver-Balsiger’s review published on Letterboxd:
Sean Baker has gone from strength to strength, his films, from Starlet to Tangerine and now The Florida Project, have each improved upon the last. His films are all impressively simple, realistic, and greatly moving. They have a real sense of purpose, telling the stories of people who don't usually get a voice in society. His non-judgmental approach allows him to capture bad situations and bad people without blaming one for the other.
The Florida Project is his latest part-vérité film and depicts poverty and childhood with objectivity and restraint. The canvas painted is one of broken dreams, with innocence and youth providing protection from the dark and seedy adult world. The Florida Project is broken and disjointed, but in a way which captures life and in a way which preserves the tone and energy of each scene. The happy moments and the sad moments counterbalance nicely, although it is the sadness that ultimately lingers and makes the audience cry. It is without a doubt one of the finest depictions of American poverty put to film.
There's a few minor quibbles I have with The Florida Project but only one worth mentioning: the ending. The final sequence alone makes me dock half a star. It's a tonally inconsistent mess that undermines the rest of the film. I have no problems with it being different or a dream sequence but I think it's a copout under the guise of artistry. Films like Xavier Dolan's Mommy prove that it is possible to marry reality and unreality in such a manner, but that film played on multiple levels and didn't just use it out of nowhere. Not only does The Florida Project randomly use such an ambiguous ending, it does so for no gain except to mislead the audience and put on an artsy front. I hate over-conclusive endings that spell out everything, but similarly you can't change the tone and style of your film just to be inconclusive. The ending does not affect the experience either emotionally or thematically. The emphasis on childlike happiness and dreams is not changed by literally showing them, and especially at the expense of maintaining a consistent tone and vision. Had the film cut just before the children head off to Disneyland, it would have been a humbling and moving experience, instead the film becomes forced and indulgent with an overbearing sense of artistic entitlement. It was just needless and patronising.
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Overall The Florida Project is filled with wonderful moments. It feels real and has such care and understanding for its many characters in difficult circumstances. Aside from the ending, which is a colossal misstep, The Florida Project is a modest and simple film that nails almost everything. It's just a shame that it's a five star movie with a two star ending.