Director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Alex R. Hibbert, Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes
A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, Moonlight chronicles the life of a young black man from childhood to adulthood as he struggles to find his place in the world while growing up in a rough neighbourhood of Miami. (Source: IMDb)
Prior to seeing this film, there was a struggle to explain just why it was a film which seemed to be piquing my interest in such a way, and I could barely get beyond saying something along the lines of “well, it’s that Oscar-nominated film, and apparently it is amazing”. Having now seen this film, it is just as difficult to try and comprehend and elucidate just how exceptional this film is, so excuse the hyperbole, but this film is incredibly special, wonderful beyond words, and one of the most important and transcendent films I have seen in a long, long time.
The “coming of age” film has been done many times before, and whilst the ambitious scope of Boyhood may still be the benchmark for many, to me, Moonlight tells an even more important story, a unique and touching look at a black, gay man coming to terms with his sexuality and finding his place in the world. It is bold and daring, yet portrayed in a subtle and quiet manner, resulting in the most magnificent, haunting, atmospheric, tender and emotional portrait of the struggles faced by those struggling to fit in and find themselves. Even if you’re not a person of colour, or of the LGBT community, Moonlight has something which is so affecting and so deeply personal about it which will resonate in some way, at some point, and when it does, you will really feel it.
Telling the story with three different actors and at three crucial times (childhood, adolescence and adulthood) in the life of Chiron is undeniably effective, and despite your personal circumstances being potentially different, it is very easy to place yourself within his fears, insecurities, and emotions. Whilst Boyhood understandably received plaudits for the fact it used the same actors over a 12 year shoot, equally, Moonlight deserves endless praise for the seamless way it merges the three different actors into one character, and whilst there are certain ticks that carry over between them, there are expertly nuanced differences between them, reflecting the different stages the character is at in terms of his identity over the course of his life.
Mahershala Ali’s father figure of Juan was in the film for a lot less time than I was anticipating, but the raw power and subtle emotion of his performance makes it incredibly easy to see why there is so much awards buzz around him. His performance is exceptional, but equally his character is incredibly important in framing the story. Chiron has a tumultuous relationship with a mother plagued by addiction, and a non-existent relationship with a father who is only mentioned once, and Juan is loving and kind towards him, showing him the kind of acceptance he so craves and needs. There is a wonderfully touching scene of Juan carrying Chiron in the water, a baptism almost, and it is achingly beautiful to watch. Naomie Harris is equally exceptional, a hard character to like and play, but again, an important one in shaping who Chiron becomes over the course of the film.
It’s a slow-burner of a film, yet the time absolutely flies by; the hypnotically quiet score, and the absolutely gorgeous imagery are executed with such deftness, that you’ll wish you could spend even longer with these characters. Barry Jenkins’ direction is absolutely flawless, unique, and wonderful. It is slow, purposeful, and utterly transfixing. Whilst lacking the pizzazz of Chazelle’s La La Land, it is no less expertly crafted, and Jenkins has absolutely earned that Oscar nomination.
I feel like somewhat of a failure when I can’t find anything bad about a film, but honestly, I have nothing. This certainly wasn’t the case for me, but I think some might find it difficult to connect with the movie, but equally it is also the sort of film to be appreciated, to let it wash over you and encompass you, and believe me, with that mindset, you will absolutely find something to attach yourself to.
I saw this movie and you should too. Moonlight is truly exceptional, and frankly there aren’t enough positive phrases and words to describe just how incredible this film is. It is evocative, raw, powerful, tender in its emotion, subtle in its drama, and wonderfully unique. It is one of the most beguiling cinematic experiences I have ever had, brooding and atmospheric both in its visuals, sounds, and thematic subject matter. It is quite simply astonishing film-making, and I’m not afraid to say it, a perfect film. Absolutely unmissable.