[Sidenote: I saw this before the Oscars]
Barry Jenkins’ critically acclaimed coming of age story should be celebrated not only for its cinematic achievement, but for its depiction of minorities not seen enough on film.
Based loosely on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the film follows Chiron, a young black boy struggling with his sexuality, through three distinct chapters in his life. One focuses on him as a young boy, the next in high school, and finally as an adult. It deals with his relationships with those around him, as well as his relationship with himself.
It is almost poetic in its story-telling, you float along with it. It doesn’t treat its audience as stupid, there is no heavy exposition, it throws you in and lets you figure out who is who. It is also a film that rewards close watching, with little details scattered throughout. You are introduced to the Mahershala Ali’s Juan first, and then Chiron, so whilst Juan is not in the film that much (perhaps I was just expecting him to have more screentime as a result of all the awards he has received), but his presence and influence is felt throughout the running time.
Part of Juan’s lasting power comes from Ali’s incredible performance. He is heart-wrenching and tender, bringing a vulnerability and sensitivity to a character who, in other films, might have become a stereotype. This is where Moonlight is different; it takes an honest look at its characters as people, and then those people are brought to raw, real life by a phenomenal cast. The two Oscar-nominees (Ali and Naomie Harris, as Chiron’s drug-addict mother), as expected, are the stand outs. There is one particularly fantastic scene between them, as they argue who is to blame for Chiron being brought up by a drug-addict – the addict, or the dealer? Each of the three Chiron actors is brilliant too, imbuing their role with the emotion needed to portray his inner struggles, externally.
It is full of striking shots, yet maintains a gentle poetic feel throughout. It will likely be a film that connects significantly more with some than others. Its quiet ways and dream-like visuals will slowly wrap around certain audience members, but may shut out others – those hoping fro more of a shout than a whisper. You need to be in the right frame of mind to fully appreciate this picture. It’s not one that necessarily grabs you and drags you into the story so much as you have to give yourself over to it. It’s full of quiet moments too, so you need to have been able to quiet your thoughts in order not to be taken out of the film.
Overall, an accomplished and unique picture, bringing more diversity to the screen. It will be more popular with some than others, but is a beautiful film that deserves to be seen