Writer & Director: Barry Jenkins
Cast: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, André Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Jaden Piner.
This is how you adapt a play to the screen! Based on In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight is that rare movie that can be split into three acts and still be cinematic, beautiful, breathtaking, important, and affecting. It doesn’t hurt that the film is visually perfect, expertly paced and edited, brilliantly cast and acted, and tells a story rarely told on screen. The movie is unforgettable and should be seen by as wide an audience as possible, it’s one of those stories that needed to be told, and needs to be witnessed. It’s a story so specific and yet so universal. It’s the kind of story that film was created to tell.
The film tells the story of Chiron at three different stages of his life, and at when he goes by three different names. When he is a child he’s known as Little, as a teenager he goes by his given name, and as an adult he has morphed into Black. It’s a story about sexuality, about masculinity, about the black experience, about privilege and the lack thereof, about class, about race, about addiction, about crime. All of these elements are touched upon, and yet there is no message, no lesson to be learn, just a life to observe, an experience to bear witness to.
Mahershala Ali (House of Cards), deserving of every single bit of praise he’s been receiving since the film premiered, plays Juan, a version of a father figure to Little. As problematic as his character is (he’s a drug dealer), he is also the only stable male figure in the young man’s life, a refuge to seek when things go bad. The mixture of tenderness and hardness the actor is able to tap into makes me so excited to see what opportunities he will be given after this film. Impressive and inspiring is Naomie Harris (Skyfall), who plays Chiron’s drug addict and volatile mother, loving but selfish, abusive and regretful. It’s a master class of acting and nuance – a role so easy to overplay – her understated performance of someone struggling to survive and leaning on the crutch of drugs, Harris navigates the role in the best way possible. Rounding out the adult cast is the surprisingly good turn by Janelle Monáe. Known primarily as a very talented singer, she makes her acting debut here as Juan’s girlfriend, and a maternal figure to Chiron throughout his childhood and adolescence. Her performance in Moonlight makes me that much more excited to see what she does in the forthcoming Hidden Figures, a film I can’t wait to check out.
But the film belongs to the three actors playing Chiron and the three playing his childhood friend Kevin. These six men follow the two characters at three key moments in life, and embody their roles so fully, I didn’t doubt for one second the truthfulness of their performances – especially impressive in the younger actors, who sometimes can appear overly coached or exaggerated in their mannerisms and diction. The story is coming of age, and while Chiron just happens to be someone coming to terms with his sexuality and manhood, the story is affecting for anyone watching the film.
I believe Moonlight to be a true masterpiece, and film we will look back upon for years to come, both in terms of content as well as style. It is an impressive feat of acting and filmmaking and I definitely know what movie I will be rooting for on Oscar night, because if there is one certainty, this year’s Oscar race will include Moonlight, and for once it will not be #oscarssowhite this year.