The Florida Project  directed by Sean Baker takes place in, you guessed it, Florida. Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) lives with her mother Hailey (Bria Vinaite) in a low-rent community motel outside of Disney World. Also starring Willem Dafoe as Bobby, the manager of the motel.
Coming-of-age – Brooklyn Prince shines as Moonee, a six-year-old whose not portrayed as the average Hollywood interpretation of children. She’s a brat. She’s angry. She whines. She spits on cars with her friends. She steals money for ice cream. Guess what? Those are kids. She’s not the smartest person in the room or a precocious prodigy. It’s refreshing to see a film where kids are portrayed not as wise beyond their years, but as adolescents trying to make sense of their situation while also wanting to have fun.
Non-Professional Acting – The only actor here with prior experience is Willem Dafoe as Bobby, the stern yet caring manager. Instead of a villain or a creep, he’s more just a regular guy just getting by on his lousy job while also dealing with his rambunctious tenants. He cares deeply for Moonee and wants to help but knows that most of it is out of his control. It’s a truly heartbreaking and melancholy performance, maybe the most effective Dafoe has ever given. His scenes with Hailey are great as we see him act like both a father and a landlord, neither role he particularly enjoys. Hailey is also quite impressive (discovered from Instagram) as Moonee’s mother, who appears to be only in her twenties and has the same emotional maturity as her daughter. It’s clear she’s not fit to be a mother, and despite how much the audience wants to have Child Protective Services take her away, Hailey’s love for her daughter is real and we feel it through her performance. The fact that her and Prince’s performances blend in so well with a veteran like Dafoe’s is a testament to how great they are.
The Ending? – No spoiler is kind of a policy around here, and it will stay one in this review, but the ending needs to be mentioned. Without giving anything away, it leads to a powerful, devastating moment that’s as emotional as anything released this year. And then, within literally seconds, that emotion just vanishes from thin air. It’s so abrupt and jarring that it took me right out of the movie. And from reading interviews with director Sean Baker, that was his intention. Is it a deal breaker? Absolutely not. But it’s one that will leave audiences confused and a bit bewildered. That being said, the ending has stuck with me ever since I saw it and I’ve enjoyed hearing other people’s reactions and interpretations. For any movie to do that is an impressive feat and should not be ignored.