Mike’s review published on Letterboxd:
Sean Baker is a director who I've been interested in for a while, yet haven't seen a film from (until now that is). The way he shot Tangerine using only iPhone's is impressive, especially seeing how the finished film looks.
When I heard that this film's main characters were kids, I was kinda skeptical. I can only pick out a handful of child actors that give great performances, with the majority of them being the weak links of whatever films they're in.
I'm happy to say that my doubts were cleared once I saw this film. The Florida Project captures a sense of childlike wonder like I haven't seen before in film. It's a happy film, a sad film and one that will leave you with a smile on your face.
The film follows Moonee, a six year old living in a motel right outside of Orlando, Florida. She lives with her mother Halley, a unexperienced mother who makes money by various methods including selling perfume on the streets, and prostitution. Moonee spends her day hanging out with other kids that live in the motel, causing mischief and having fun with her friends. The film is told from the eyes of Moonee, capturing her carefree attitude and naive view of the world. Things happen that us, the viewer, understand that Moonee doesn't, and it's interesting to see her reactions to these more "adult" situations. It captures that childlike wonder when you're only limited by your imagination. There are so many tender moments between Moonee and her friends and her mom, who despite being a shitty person overall, is a loving mother to her daughter. The film also has a colorful cast of supporting characters, my favorite being Bobby, the owner of the motel. He's stern, wanting to uphold his motel's image, but is a huge softie for the kids. It's really the characters that make this film what it is. All of them are very well developed, and have great chemistry together.
Brooklynn Prince gives a stellar performance as Moonee, the main character of the film. For a seven year old, she gives an incredible performance in this film. She really holds her own around people like Willem Dafoe. Her line delivery is on point, and doesn't once come off as annoying. Willem Dafoe also gives a great performance as Bobby, the owner of the motel. He has great chemistry with the other actors, and comes off as someone who is tough on the outside but sweet on the inside. You can see that he has a soft spot for Moonee, but is a bit more tough on her mother because of her hands off parenting style. The only performance that kinda annoyed me was Bria Vinaite as Halley, Moonee's mother. She just came off as whiny and her ratchet mannerisms got annoying quickly. She's the only weak part of the film in my opinion, even if she has some moments to shine.
The cinematography is just another one of this films highlights. It all looks dreamlike and captures the vibrancy of Florida. Sure there was a bit of shakycam towards the end that could get a bit distracting, but overall the cinematography was a highlight of the film in my opinion.
Overall, The Florida Project is a great film that perfectly captures childhood innocence. It also has one of the best performances by a child actor that I have seen in quite some time. It's a great film that definitely deserves some awards season love.