I had heard a growing chorus about the greatness of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight from the festival circuit, and it is now gracing the number one spot on many critics’ Top 10 films of the year. It’s a three-way Oscar race at this point, with Manchester By The Sea, and La La Land.
Before I saw the film, I did not understand the movie poster for Moonlight, but it is actually perfection. The film is split in three parts showing 10 year old “Little”, a young teen and then a young adult Chiron. The poster shows all three actors split in thirds, and how they together make the whole person that is Chiron.
The film Moonlight is based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue which was written by Chicago Steppenwolf playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney. Little/Charon is a young taciturn 10 year old in the first segment. Chased by bullies who taunt him for being a “faggot”. He hides out in a crackhouse, and is improbably rescued by the local drug dealer gang leader, Juan (Mahershala Ali in a tour de force). Mahershala Ali I was mainly familiar with from his excellent work as the lobbyist Remy in House of Cards, but he’s one of those faces who has been in several TV series and movies like Hunger Games Mockingjay. I’ve never seen him like this. He was quite simply amazing. He will be nominated for just about every supporting actor nomination available this awards cycle.
He takes young Little back home to his wife Teresa because Little won’t talk and say where he lives. After Little spends the night, Juan takes him under his wing, and you fear what he might be grooming Little for. But there is just this luminous scene where he teaches Little to Swim on a Miami beach. Juan is the one who tells him about black boys looking blue in the Moonlight. Little lives alone with his single mother nurse, and you can see in his big eyes how he craves a father figure. He even asks Juan and Teresa, “What does ‘faggot’ mean?” and your heart stops. Juan and Teresa explain, but also are accepting and tender. Every character in this film has layers and complexities — the local drug lord, is the caring father figure, full of acceptance.
The second segment shows lanky Chiron (Ashton Sanders) still being bullied at school. He has one consistent friend, Kevin, who was his best pal in the first segment, too. There is an incredible tender scene between Kevin and Chiron alone on the beach one night. But then afterwards, he is betrayed. This moment in the still above is when Chiron looks at his beaten face in the mirror, and you can just see him girding himself, and saying, “No. More.” He explodes, and it had my heart in my throat just like the ending of FandryFandry. You’ve seen this poor kid, now with a crack addicted neglectful mother, just endure and endure and he just can’t any more. Many movies would end there.
But the final segment shows what Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) has become as an adult. He’s now a drug dealer with gold teeth and macho attitude. The way he dresses, and his car all show how he’s trying to live up to what Juan was. He gets a call from Kevin (André Holland) out of the blue, and that sends him driving hours through the night back to Miami to see Kevin again. The film ends so tenderly and with such a sense of hope. My heart was just so full.
This is an incredible film. Groundbreaking in its structure. It examines the life of a young gay black man, and examines the toxicity of the roles of masculinity. It’s complex, and it’s also just so luminously filmed. It is a gorgeous film to watch.
2016 may suck in general, but we’ve been given such a gift this year with great films. Don’t miss Moonlight. It’s still playing in theaters.
Hi! I have been a fan your blog for a couple of months now. I am usually a bit of a wallflower, in life and online, and mostly just listen to conversations and read things. However, I have decided that I should try to comment on the blogs that I enjoy, to show an appreciation. I know how much work and dedication it takes to keep this up. I also know how just a comment or two can make all difference. So thanks for all the great work!
I initially found your blog through your postings on Bollywhat, I believe, and starting checking out your writing on Hindi film. I think you do a nice job covering important American films as well. I liked this Moonlight review a lot. It really sounds like a beautiful film. It has been one of my most anticipated movies of the year. Barry Jenkins’ first movie ‘Medicine for Melancholy’ was really good. It sort of got lumped in with the Mumblecore movement but I thought it stood head and shoulders above a lot of the other movies in that cycle. It definitely made me take notice as a director to keep an eye on. I was intrigued when I read about Moonlight and even more excited when I saw the trailer. Due to the hectic flow of the holidays, my wife and I only had time to see one movie in a theater over the last couple of weeks. We chose Befikre (which we absolutely adored) but reading this and other reviews, I’m wondering if I made the right decision! I’m hoping we can still sneak this one in, otherwise I will have to wait until the blu-ray release.
Ryan, I really appreciate you commenting. It made my day! I have not seen Medicine for Melancholy, but I will seek it out. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is difficult. There is so much going on with the holidays, and the movie theater calendar is crowded with good films to see because the Oscar rules state a film must release (at least in LA and NY) before the end of the year to be considered. They want the films to be fresh in voters’ minds, and thus the holiday crush. If you missed it in theaters I think Moonlight may even be one of those re=released in theaters for the Oscars because it will be one of the top nominated films. I listened to the Awards Daily podcast last week, and they said that if there may be a split for best picture/director this year, and Barry Jenkins, if he won, would be the first African-American director to get an Oscar. That would be an incredible moment. I think Moonlight will do very well at the Independent Spirit awards, at a minimum. I’m just so glad that it is a film that is getting so much recognition on the top of my critics top 10 lists.