One of the most quietly ambitious films you’re sure to see, Moonlight is a phenomenal look at one man’s life growing up in Miami, struggling with sexuality and manhood. In a way, writing that sentence might actually not be quite enough to explain just the amoun of depth and heart this movie contains.
What I think connects so much with the movie is that Barry Jenkins allows his characters space to be themselves, when so many of the characters can’t be who they truly want. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition to behold because it requires the film and filmmakers to have incredible empathy. There is Filmmaking (yes, with a capital F) behind this, but it never once overtakes the story.
Moonlight has a tightrope to walk as a narrative because a movie about ideas can sometimes hinder the characters and visa versa. Here we have a coming of age story that also is functioning as art piece with strong themes. Particularly in this era of Black projects that are thematically heavy, but struggle to cohere into comething whole, let alone transcendant. None of those issues are present here, in fact they are obliterated. There are few movies, A Separation comes to mind, that can sustain thematic complexity and character development in mere moments. There are single scenes in Moonlight can communicate the complicated nature of sexuality, manhood, race, and gender, so thoroughly that you’ll find yourself contemplating the moments long after you leave the theater. It’s comparable to the kind of dazzling work that occurred during this past season of American Crime. A movie like Moonlight starts a dialogue within your spirit that you can’t help but engage with.
While much of this success should be attributed to Barry Jenkins adaptation of Tarell Alvin McCraney script, the actors in this film really do amazing work. There’s no point in trying to figure out an MVP amongst this group because everyone is so in sync with what needs to happen. The first act, with its guiding light of Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monae, flows easily to the second explosive second act, with a ferocious Naomie Harris and Ashton Sanders and Jharrel Jerome, who play smothered innocence with such heartbreak, and when Andre Holland and Trevante Rhodes come in during the soul searching finale, you’ve just given the movie your heart. The three actors playing Chiron all contribute so much to this movie and in infitely immeasurable wasy. I am perhaps most taken with Trevante Rhodes, who plays the oldest version of Chiron. I was fascinated watching him play this complicated man, an amalgamation of his previous selves and influences. Watching Rhodes peel back the layers of himself and reapply them depending on the scenario is something wonderful to behold.
I’d point out specific moments but it would undo the power of the whole. Everyone owes it to themselves to check this film out whenever they can.