My Rating: 7 out of 10
One of my favorite things about Academy Awards season is that I get to watch movies that I normally wouldn’t have heard about. Moonlight is a great example. Adapted and directed by Barry Jenkins, the film tells the story of Chrion, a gay, black man, who grew up in a poor neighborhood with a crack addict mother (played by Naomie Harris), as he tries to discover and come to terms with who he is. The film is broken up into three stages of Chrion’s life (childhood, teens, and adulthood) and the character is played by three extremely well cast actors: Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes).
Like Fences, the film explores the idea of how your situation, your parents, and the other people you spend time with during your childhood have an unavoidable effect on who you grow up to be. Negative relationships can eat away at you, no matter how much you try to push negative people away. But, on the flip side, positive relationships like the one that Chiron formed with Juan (played by Mahershala Ali) can make all the difference in one’s life. Unlike Fences, Moonlight is an excellent adaptation of a play (In the Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney), in which the nature of the film medium is used to its fullest.
It’s impossible to talk about Moonlight without mentioned how beautifully the movie is filmed. There’s something about the lighting, colors, angles, and cuts that creates a dreamlike quality to many of the scenes. By combining this effect with the extremely realistic storyline and characters, some parts of the film feel like vivid memories, especially during the first and second act. The third act, when Chiron is an adult being played by Trevante, is much more subdued and less ethereal. This made the first two acts feel like memories going through the older Chiron’s head as he tried to determine what course of action to take.
Not only is the plot exceptionally written and highly realistic, but all the characters that exist in the story are three-dimensional, flawed human beings. No one is purely good and no one is all bad. This is, of course, accentuated by the top-notch acting on display in every scene. All the main cast, from Naomie to Janelle, fully become their characters to the point that it didn’t feel like I was watching a movie, but was peering into someone’s mind. Even tiny details, like the motions of background characters in the school scenes, look so real. In addition, the casting for Chiron’s three selves was incredible (the same goes for Kevin). They really had similar facial features and mannerisms, which was fascinating since the three were apparently not allowed to meet during filming.
As mentioned earlier, Moonlight shows how the things that we experience as a child can effect the person we become later in life. Furthermore, the film is about relationships and speaks to anyone who is struggling with connecting, fitting in, or trying to determine their place in the world. The honesty to which this subject is approached is what makes the film so relatable to wider audiences. You don’t have to be a black, gay man who grew up in a bad neighborhood with a drug addicted mother in order to feel for and understand Chiron. For example, the fact that Chiron needed to be an adult even when he was a kid is an idea that a lot of people can connect with.
My only issue with the film was one of personal preference. Without revealing anything about the plot, there were a lot of questions left open that I wish had been answered. The ending especially felt like it lacked closure, though I am confident that it was left intentionally open-ended. There was also a major event that happened between act one and act two that I hoped would be discussed in more detail by the characters, but instead was never explained.
While Moonlight isn’t playing in many theaters anymore, I recommend trying to rent or stream it before tonight’s awards ceremony. The film was not my overall favorite to win best picture, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it took home best picture, director, cinematographer, and a couple acting awards. Mahershala’s performance in particular was one of the best I’ve seen in a while. And Naomie handled playing a drug addict in a truthful and tasteful way. I definitely recommend Moonlight to anyone that appreciates the film medium as an art form. It is almost impossible not to love something about this movie.