MOONLIGHT [2016]

moonlight

Directed by Barry Jenkins

Written by Barry Jenkins (screenplay), Tarell Alvin McCraney (story by)

Starring: Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan SandersonAlex R. HibbertAshton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, André Holland


Moonlight is incredibly touching, ruminating on subjects that haven’t been explored in depth before – specifically, what it would be like for a young, gay black male to grow up in a masculine, African-American area in Florida. It does this without a hint of sappiness, and the chemistry between all actors is subtle but noticeable. Their interaction feels legitimate. It is a moving experience, but is it as incredible as almost everyone seems to think it is?

The fact that it delves into waters mostly unexplored certainly helps, which should be encouraged within film-making, but countless other film-makers are exploring unmapped territory too. It is also extremely heartfelt and honest – I don’t think I have seen a male cry this many times in a single movie before. This shows very clearly the struggle that Chiron is going through. This is a gay male, still struggling with his sexuality, stuck in what he sees as a hyper-masculine environment. All he wants is to fit in. Not only that, but Chiron was already confused as a child, having to essentially raise himself.

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This simple wish of wanting to fit in has an obvious impact, as when we see Chiron being bullied at school, it hits home hard, regardless of race. His wish is simple, yet so difficult to attain. It is also universal; when growing up, almost all young people, in some way, want to fit in. They don’t want to be stuck on the outside, sitting by themselves during lunch-time.

Moonlight is much more concerned with its character(s) rather than a solid narrative; the film effortlessly depicts Chiron’s struggles for us to appreciate. It also succeeds in depicting how alienated and alone Chiron feels, using subtle techniques, such as the shot below, with every other student looking at a timid Chiron.

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This approach though can be a double-edged sword, as it is disappointing to see an almost complete lack of action, especially during the second two acts. Nothing of consequence really happens, and the few things that do happen are achingly obvious before they begin. There are a few early exceptions, but once buckled in, the journey is a very predictable one.

Jenkins chooses to separate the film into three parts of Chiron’s life, played by three different actors of different ages, creating difficulty in connecting with the character of Chiron. We can connect with what he is dealing with, the obstacles he is forced to hurdle. But as a character in a movie, this connection is much more difficult. This problem is compounded by how restrained and subtle each actor is in portraying Chiron.

He is shy, obviously, but apart from confusion about his sexual orientation and an estranged relationship with his mother, we do not get to know this person. Again, we can connect with his pain as we follow his story, but not the character himself. The only real personality we meet throughout the entire film is Juan (Mahershala Ali). His character is layered and faces difficult choices.

A pity then, as he is only in the first act of the film, which is by far the film’s strongest point. Unfortunately, beyond Juan, there are no other memorable characters to be found, and the film gradually loses momentum as the minutes tick past.

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Moonlight is well executed, and depicts the struggles someone like Chiron experiences in a unique yet realistic fashion. But, one can’t help but think this could have been so much better with a main character who is memorable. A character that possesses a personality. Sure, Chiron is a confused person, but four beer(1)that shouldn’t mean that he is essentially a blank slate who struggles to say a complete sentence. This is not a bad film, far from it: it is very cleverly shot, the colours are incredible, and it deals with delicate subject matter with deft touch. But what truly makes this film stick out from the pack?

Two short of a sixer.

4/6

12 Comments on “MOONLIGHT [2016]

  1. Nice review Jordan, I felt Trevante echoed enough mannerisms of the other actors to make me see all three clearly as Chiron but it is a hurdle to be jumped. I definitely agree the first third is the best with Juan in it and the fragility of a child provoking a response from the audience easily. I understand the style of the film and the long takes making it immersive but I would have liked some editing. Yet the third act while long stays with me. There’s something there for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, you pretty much summed up the movie better than I did in a single paragraph. Nice stuff mate! I agree they all echoed enough mannerisms of the character, but my problem is that the character is barely a character. There also seems to be very little in the way of character evolution. That is probably what they were aiming for, but I like main characters with a personality, I like seeing them change as the film goes on. That doesn’t happen here, and if it does, it was certainly too subtle. The pace didn’t bother me so much, I’m all for the slow burn, but it felt like the slow pace just led to… Chiron finally understanding himself and his situation, coming to peace with himself?

      Is that it? Am I missing something? I mean, there are countless movies that are like this. Sexual orientation and skin colour should not play any role in whether a film is embraced or not, but I can’t help but see this almost universal love for Moonlight as political correctness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not accusing you, or anyone, because we have all been conditioned to think like that. Especially after the last Oscars.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks Jordan, I’ve heard similar sentiments elsewhere. I don’t think the love for Moonlight is due to political correctness. Conditioned or otherwise. There’s no doubt there’s more black nominees this year. I put that down to the quality of the films but this always in the eye of the beholder. We both have our misgivings of the film different though they are and I probably rate it higher but I enjoyed your well articulated thoughts and reading your review.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Appreciate the kind words mate. I love how film discussion can be civil even if we disagree. 🙂

        Yeah the PC thing is obviously 100% subjective, my perspective. I just really have a hard time finding what makes this film so perfect, I’ve only read one other person who feels even remotely the same way too.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I like how you have an opinion Jordan and can back it up. As you said, we may not all agree but discussion is key.

        Like

  2. Interesting review! I’d say the same thing about Chiron as a personality, but similar to Lloyd, I think the actors are playing the part glue enough together in their mannerisms that his lack of verbal responses is subtle but impactful. I really thought Ashton Sanders as teen Chiron was overlooked. The cinematography and editing made up for a lot of the action to make the story memorable and powerful. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeah the cinematography and the colour palette help this film a ton. Cos in my eyes its simply another in a long line films about people finding themselves. But that’s obviously me and only me!

      Like

  3. I too thought the first act was the strongest. But at least this was better than LLL so no harm in it winning Best Picture in fact it’s really cool small movie about such a subject won. But when people claim it’s better than Brokeback Mountain my eyes roll into the back of my head.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes yes and yes. Agree with everything you said, especially that such a film won an Oscar. And it was definitely better than LLL! I still think there is a bit of PC going on though, especially after the last Oscars. Or perhaps I’m just reading too much into it

      Like

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