The Hype Surrounding ‘Moonlight’ is Well Earned
Every year around this time you start to see a lot of hyperbole in and around Hollywood. There's a lot of “this is the best film of the year” and “this film is guaranteed to be a Best Picture nominee” and most of the time it's nothing but hot air.
I've already heard both of those things – and many more – about “Moonlight” and having now seen it I'm more than willing to say most of the glowing things you'll hear about it in the coming months are probably true.
Mahershala Ali as Juan and Alex Hibbert as Chiron in ‘Moonlight.’ (Photo by David Bornfriend. Courtesy of A24)
“Moonlight” is the story a young African American man named Chiron. Divided into three distinct acts, the film checks in with Chiron at three different points in his life – first as a young boy (Alex Hibbert), then a teenager (Ashton Sanders) and finally as an adult (Trevante Rhodes).
Young Chiron's life is a difficult one. He lives with his crack addicted mother Paula (Naomie Harris) in a dangerous and rundown Miami neighborhood. He's painfully shy around pretty much everyone, which – along with his slight physique – leads to him be constantly bullied.
One day, while dodging his bullies, Chiron stumbles upon Juan (Mahershala Ali) a drug dealer who, along with his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe), ends up befriending Chiron and the provide him with a stable, positive extended family.
Things remain essentially the same for teenage Chiron. Still bullied, mom still smoking crack, still shy and still leaning heavily on his extended family. Complicating matters further is Chiron's struggle to accept himself as a homosexual in a culture that looks down on it.
While adult Chiron has reinvented himself, many things remain the same. He remains reserved, but puts forth a persona that is completely opposite of his reality. His relationship with his mother remains strained and his struggle to accept himself for who he is harder than ever.
Jharrel Jerome as Kevin and Ashton Sanders as Chiron in ‘Moonlight.’ (Photo by David Bornfriend. Courtesy of A24)
There are really a lot of things to like about “Moonlight.”
First, it's an incredibly unique story told from a refreshing point of view. You see a young boy, a young man and an adult over the course of his life change and adapt, but continue some of the same struggles throughout. He never has that “aha” moment and he doesn't necessarily have a Hollywood happy ending. Chiron's story is not always pretty, but it feels genuine.
The second (and third and fourth) thing that stands out to me is the group performance(s) put forth to give Chiron a complete story. Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes are so in line with one another that it's almost uncanny. You see a gradual and believable maturation of the character.
Trevante Booker as Chiron in ‘Moonlight.’ (Photo by David Bornfriend. Courtesy of A24)
The third big thing that jumps out is the cinematography of James Laxton. He uses interesting angles, a lot of close-ups to give it a very intimate feel and he uses the natural scenery and settings to essentially make the neighborhood another cast member.
Director/screenwriter Barry Jenkins took all of those fantastic individual pieces and has crafted a truly great film. Every accolade “Moonlight” and Jenkins earn over the next few months – and there will be many – will be very deserved.
Oscar season is upon us and if you're one of those people that likes to see all of the favorites in advance of the awards ceremony, you might as well see this one now … it would be more than a minor upset if “Moonlight” doesn't make the final cut.
★★★★1/2 of ★★★★★