Jason Huang (黃擎元)’s review published on Letterboxd:
Ok, ok. This has reclaimed the top spot in Sean Baker's filmography. For now at least. So hard to decide between this and Tangerine. And I haven't even seen Starlet or Red Rocket yet.
In my life, I have always been very receptive towards kids, and every cousin I have is younger than me. Most of them are at least ten years younger than me. I know a lot of people can find kids annoying but to me, there is so much beauty in being able to understand how kids behave and act. They are generally considered the bottom of the social ladder and adults rarely take the time to truly understand them because they think they know better. And that's almost positively true. They probably do know better.
But Sean Baker takes his time to get to know Moonee. Same with Jancey and Scooty. His empathy for the kids on-screen is so fierce and passionate it makes me cry. It's so refreshing to see a movie almost exclusively from the perspective of kids, and he manages to balance the innocence and goodheartedness of Moonee and the impending doom of an under-average mother. And holy shit, for once it is so good to see dialogue from children that actually sounds like what children would say.
To me, what REALLY makes this film work is the way the mother is portrayed, because she totally could have been a one-dimensional "shitty mother" who just smoked around her child and swore at her all the time, but that is almost never the case. Yes, she does do all these things, and she even has her daughter take her bikini pics so she can fuck other men in the room while her daughter's in the bathtub (Jeanne Dielman reference baby!!!). The movie never feels judgmental towards Halley and chooses to focus on their incredibly tight relationship despite their lack of wealth.
I know the ending's kinda polarizing and I see why people would hate it but I actually thought that was kinda perfect for the film and the fact that they are so close in proximity to Disney World becomes so thematically relevant in that last shot. And I think the fact that even the format changes (35mm to iPhone) really drives that point home. And yeah, that 35mm cinematography went hard. The purple buildings? Absolutely gorgeous.
I'm not even a filmmaker but I feel like Sean Baker is such an inspirational director. Seeing the way he has progressed from his first film to this is nothing short of miraculous. This is his first film actually shot on analog (he was probably real happy about this, I read all his reviews bitching about how [insert film] should have been shot on film HAHAHAHAHAHA) but he always works with such a small but close-knit team and a relatively tiny budget. The way he incorporates actors with non-actors is really fascinating and I've heard him talk about the way he directs children as well and how he usually has to nail the first two or three takes or else the kids stop giving a shit. It's just little things like this that make me feel like he is truly so passionate about filmmaking and shedding a light on underrepresented communities in America.