One thing I truly love about movies is their ability to visually introduce me to a part of society to which I’m rarely (if ever) exposed. “Moonlight” is one of those sincerely special movies that offers a compelling look (and tells a beautiful story) at the life of a homosexual, economically depressed boy coming of age in Miami. At the heart of this poetic, authentic, and moving film lies the theme of African-American ideals of masculinity, our ability (or lack thereof) to rise above our rough circumstances, and the desire to simply live life just as we are.
The story is effectively told in three chapters, each with a distinct look and feel, and each mirroring the perception and reality at each particular point in a boy’s life as he struggles with his identity and persona.
Chapter One introduces us to schoolboy Chiron / “Little” (Alex R. Hibbert), a quiet kid who is relentlessly bullied and frequently depressed. Chapter Two gives us teenage Chiron (an astonishing performance by Ashton Sanders), doing his best to fit in with the world while dealing with his crackhead mama and confused by his budding sexuality. Chapter Three, which is the best of the trio, shows us an adult Chiron / “Black” (Trevante Rhodes) who has made some very poor life choices –and lets us share in his hometown return to reconnect with a childhood pal.
There’s a lot of beautiful, delicate storytelling on display and I don’t want to spoil the film by exposing too much of the plot because this movie’s many layers deserve to be gradually discovered by its audience firsthand.
It is truly amazing how three different actors portray Chiron at different ages throughout his life — their mannerisms, speech patterns and body language are spot-on and consistent throughout. This is a huge feat that should be highly commended and lauded as much as possible. The supporting performances are just as strong, particularly from Naomie Harris as Chiron’s mother, Janelle Monáe as a kind neighbor, Mahershala Ali as the father figure Chiron never had, and Jharrel Jerome and André Holland, actors playing Chiron’s best friend Kevin in different stages of his life. This is impressive ensemble acting, and is a tremendous accomplishment.
The story feels highly personal — so intimate that at times it almost feels like you are reading someone’s diary. Director Barry Jenkins tenderly treats his subject matter with a breathtaking sensitivity and intelligence, mirroring the lead character of Chiron. His direction is refined, graceful, restrained and unhurried, where he takes the time to allow the story to develop organically. Jenkins drops subtle hints along the way and packs each scene with intricate details that give us an outsider’s glimpse into what makes Chiron the person he is. While there are several scenes that focus on the plight of the young black urban man (topics touched on include gender, drug abuse, sexuality, gang activity, and poverty), the film ever feels exploitative, preachy nor heavy handed because the subject matter is handled with such a delicate, refined touch.
The power of this film lies in its quiet ferocity, like a sleeping lion waiting to be awakened. It’s not the dialogue that’s brilliant: it’s the delicate and deliberate character interaction that speaks volumes. This is a tender, and at times heartbreaking, tale of one boy’s internal self exploration and external struggle through life. “Moonlight” is one stunning, beautiful film.
Matt was unavailable for review.