HOLLYWOOD—Like numerous great works of art “Moonlight” is many things. It is tender, beautiful love story, a reflection on the cycle of violence and addiction, and a superb coming of age story. Its beautiful direction, script, cinematography, and music make it an awards season frontrunner and certainly one of the best films of the year.
The story follows Chiron, also known as “Little” and “Black” through three stages of his life as he deals with bullying, coming to terms with his sexuality, his mother’s drug addiction, falling in love, and his aching loneliness.
There is so much to praise about this film. It is as close to being a perfect movie as I’ve seen this year. The music is marvelous. The violins particularly evoke powerful emotions in the audience and capture the film’s erratic, hazy, dreamlike quality.
That quality is also demonstrated in the extraordinary camerawork and cinematography. We are spun in a circle, lights seem distorted as if in a neon haze, and silent screams jump from the screen. It all comes together so beautifully, and fits in perfectly with the three-act play style. I had this feeling the early acts were both past and present in a way. The whole film is like a memory or a dream. The first act a memory for older Chiron, and the last act a flash forward for young Chiron. If ever there was a beautiful story on how all the elements of our lives come together and affect us at every stage, this is it. It’s not unlike “Boyhood,” but it far surpasses it.
This movie shows so many elements of Chiron’s life I feel that I could see it two or three more times and still find something new. It’s a fantastic piece of LGBTQ cinema. Chiron’s ostracism from his peers is horrible to watch. The film doesn’t just revel in the physical brutality inflicted on Chiron, though there is plenty of that, but also the constant emotional trauma he suffers. It would be so easy to luxuriate in the cynicism and existential loneliness of it, but amongst this darkness arises a love scene of such beauty that it rivals “Blue is the Warmest Color.”
It is also a tremendous story about addiction. Chiron’s mother Paula (Naomie Harris) is heavily addicted to crack. As Chiron grows into a teenager his mother’s emotional abuse and neglect serve to exacerbate the problems Chiron is already facing. The ways in which addiction hurt not just the addict, but all those around them is starkly illustrated here. This makes Chiron’s relationship with Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Theresa (Janelle Monae) even more beautiful. They give him the love and guidance he can’t find with his own biological mother. When Juan must face his various roles as criminal, enabler, and father figure we see a heartbreaking scene. It’s like he sees with clarity the whole tragic tapestry of drugs and addiction of which he is a part and is broken by the realization.
This is a love story first and foremost, and perhaps the most beautiful things about the romance between teen (Ashton Sanders)/adult (Trevante Rhodes) Chiron and teen (Jharrel Jerome)/adult (Andre Holland) Kevin are the moments of simple kindness we see. Chiron’s world is a hard one. He is caught up in the school to prison pipeline, he grows up around crime, addiction, and violence, he’s constantly bullied, and is incredibly lonely. When Theresa talks to him there’s a sense of calm, and in that calm we feel the love between mother and son.
Something sorely lacking in the intense, angry interactions Chiron has with Paula. When they finally do have a quiet moment, you feel the gulf, the emptiness of all those lost years. It’s a brilliant display of pacing. Likewise, the moments between Chiron and Kevin are beautiful. The whole script is marvelous, but what Kevin says to Chiron on the beach about the breeze will stay with me for a long, long time. When they drink together in the diner as adults, and when Kevin cooks Chiron his “chef’s special” it’s so full of tenderness, the contrast with the previous cruelty so great, that one cannot help but be moved.
That’s the whole thing I think. When Kevin talks about being happy despite it all and “Bob Marley stuff.” The beauty of love, and this story, is kindness, love, and the light it provides in our often dark lives.
This was one of the best movies all year. I know you’re not supposed to compare apples to oranges, but I propose that it was even better than the outstanding “Hell or High Water.” The acting is superb. Andre Holland and Jharrel Jerome give charismatic, brilliant performances. I really got to hand it to Jerome to, he delivered a few hilarious lines. Holland has a great sense of warmth to him, and his smile lights up the room.
He was the perfect choice for the role. I think I almost fell in love with him. Ali, Harris, and Monae all delivered spectacular performances. Every scene had brilliant chemistry between the actors. A toast especially to Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and especially Trevante Rhodes for their portrayals of child, teen, and adult Chiron respectively. Everything was executed to the highest caliber with incredible emotion.
Director/screenwriter Barry Jenkins outdid himself here. He is still in the early stages of his career, and he is a talent to look out for. His dialogue is perfect, and his pacing extraordinary. His use of camera angles, sound, all tremendous. He has set himself up as a front runner in at least two Oscar races as far as I am concerned.
The movie in general has a good chance to clean up at the Oscars, and it should. It’s a beautiful story done exactly right about topics that need to be addressed. If there is a better film waiting for us this year, and that’s a big if, all I can say is it’s a great time to go to the movies.