Willem Dafoe knows from tortured roles (Platoon, The Last Temptation of Christ), but this creation -- a delicate blend of protector, fusspot and secret survivor -- is his richest, most lovable piece of work.
Baker has imbued this whole terrific movie with a child's sense of discovery - the sort that can turn a decrepit, pastel corner of Orlando into a vibrant cinematic playground.
It is because Baker views the world without blinders that the moments of lyricism in The Florida Project are so piercing. When a rainbow shows up in the sky, it's not just a rainbow; it's a benediction.
Dafoe's sensitive performance anchors the movie's slippery adult world, and Baker builds a cinematic mood beautifully; the strip malls and swampland and buzzing cicadas on screen feel as real and tactile as the theater seat beneath you.
Though Moonee's story may not have a Hollywood happy ending when she's grown and the world has been cruel, Baker has created an indomitable character who's at least got a fighting chance.
The Florida Project achieves something rare and magical: presenting existence from the perspective of a young child while, at the same time, providing enough "clues" that viewers are able to decipher what's really going on.
All childhoods must come to an end, few of them as piercingly as the one in "The Florida Project," Sean Baker's raw, exuberant and utterly captivating new movie.
As in previous films, Mr. Baker mixes amateur and professional actors to exceptional effect.
Director Sean Baker crafts one of the best and toughest films about childhood ever and gives a never-better Willem Dafoe a clear shot at an Oscar.