Moonlight (2016 A24)
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali.
Directed by Barry Jenkins.
Producers: Adele Romanski, Dade Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner.
Screenplay by Barry Jenkins. Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney.
Cinematography by James Laxton. Edited by Nat Sanders, Joi McMillon.
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 neighborhood of Miami.
In a word, wow. I’m not even sure where to begin. Moonlight tells a story in such a unique, lyrical manner that I can’t quite get a handle on it. Yes, there’s a strong, emotional center to Moonlight. The story and performances revolve out of that emotional center and are woven together into tight-yet-unconventional manner.
Depicted through the eyes of the lead character, Chiron, at three critical stages of his life, Moonlight is the story of perseverance, personal discovery, acceptance, forgiveness and, in some ways, surrender. Whether it’s to bullies or his drug-addicted mother, Chiron is forced to mostly persevere and surrender throughout his young life. How does that shape a boy who’s coming of age and just beginning his own journey of self awareness? That’s what unfolds throughout Moonlight.
Director Barry Jenkins relies less on dialogue throughout much of Moonlight to tell Chiron’s story. While slightly reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s style in that horrendous picture, Tree of Life, Jenkins is able to do something Malick couldn’t do: maintain both the emotional impact and the story’s thread throughout the film. We see Chiron connecting with local drug dealer Juan, magnificently portrayed by Mahershala Ali (who’s quickly becoming the newest Ohhhh, THAT guy! actor in Hollywood). Ali’s Juan is sensitive, empathetic and ultimately feels a sense of responsibility in caring for Chiron.
While Jenkin’s fluid directing style gives Moonlight a somber and, at times, dark tone, the actors’ performances keep the story stitched together. Three separate actors—Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes—portray Chiron at different stages of his life. Most impressive is all three maintain the character’s doubts, anger, fear and confusion.
Yes, Moonlight is about one character’s personal journey, but it avoids the cliché pitfalls of typical triumph-of-the-human-spirit fodder. It’s about acceptance; acceptance of who you are, what you’ve become and, ultimately, acceptance of your past. Moonlight succeeds in connecting with audiences because it shows that, no matter where you come from, the emotional complexities of that journey are familiar for all of us.
**** stars (out of five)