‘Florida Project’ delivers heartwarming performances

Scooty, left, and Moonee, played by Christopher Rivera and Brooklynn Prince, share an ice cream during a scene in “The Florida Project.” Courtesy of A24
Scooty, left, and Moonee, played by Christopher Rivera and Brooklynn Prince, share an ice cream during a scene in “The Florida Project.” Courtesy of A24
By JON AGUIRRE
@JonAguirreETC

I was first introduced to Sean Baker’s work with his 2015 film, “Tangerine.” I found myself mostly impressed with the ambition and execution of the movie. The small budget film tackled issues of the transgender community and the troubled life of sex workers. And even though it was shot on an iPhone 5s, it managed to remain visually stunning.

More than anything, I was excited to see what Baker was capable of with a bigger budget and better production.

“The Florida Project” exceeded every one of my expectations.

“The Florida Project” follows Moonee, played by Brooklynn Prince, and her young mother, as they try to simply survive with the threat of homelessness looming over them.

Baker places you in a near-fantasy world full of colorful buildings and strange landmarks that make Orlando, Florida. The film presents its setting like a magical land that parallels a child’s observation of the world. And really, that’s what this film is all about.

Every element of the film is made to complement the childhood experience. The cinematography moves in a way that feels frantic and sometimes confused, yet seems extremely calculated and intentional.

The story is mostly told from Moonee’s perspective, a carefree child who runs through the world with an energy that is incredibly heartfelt.

There is a scene where the two girls go on what appears to be a dollar store shopping spree, and it shows the two embracing their situation with happiness and enthusiasm. That perfectly encapsulates the tone of this movie.

If nothing else, this film serves as a portrait of childhood. It shows that no matter what the conditions are, a child will try to find happiness.

I usually avoid movies with 6-year-olds as the main characters. Oftentimes children can’t grasp the necessary emotions to perform as a character, making their presence an annoyance.

Not once did I doubt Moonee’s actions. She acts and talks just like a kid does. When there is dialogue between children, it’s hard to tell whether any of it is scripted.

This is not exclusive to the children, however. Every character is believable, unique and well written.

Moonee’s mother, Halley, played by Bria Vinaite, is an irreverent force. The manager of the motel they live in, played by Willem Defoe, is a stern father figure who honestly wants the best for the two girls.

I never thought I could say “awww” while a poverty-stricken mother and daughter flip off an ascending helicopter.

Moonee and Halley’s connection is so sweet you can’t help but fall in love with everything they do. This will be the most heartwarming movie you’ll see all year.

In “The Florida Project,” Baker has shown his strength as a writer and director. Nearly every aspect of this movie is flawless.

The only real problem I have is with the ending. I won’t spoil anything. I’ll just say it feels like a copout.

If you want to see a movie that might literally make you laugh and cry, see this movie as soon as possible.

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