Monthly Archives: October 2016

Film Review: Moonlight

Film Review: Moonlight

Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is a special film. I do not base that statement on its technical proficiency or the strength of its performances, but on the way it affects people. Moonlight transports you into the world of a young Miami man named Chiron, enabling you to discover it along with him. The film omits certain details, and these are every bit as relevant and powerful as the ones it elects to show. Moonlight does not ask for your heart, but gets it anyway.

Moonlight is based on an autobiographical play by Tarell McCraney, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. Jenkins (who wrote the screenplay) and McCraney both grew up in Liberty City, a neighborhood in Miami, during the 1980s.

There are three sections of the narrative: Little, Chiron, Black. These correspond to names people call the protagonist at different times in his life. Little takes place during Chiron’s childhood, when he is regularly beaten by kids at school. He is an easy target for the bullies because of his small size and timorous demeanor.moonlight-swimming

Chiron (played as a child by Alex R. HIbbert) hardly finds life easier at home; his mother Paula (Naomie Harris), a drug addict, abuses him there as well. The closest thing Chiron has to a supportive adult is Juan (Mahershala Ali), who sells drugs to Paula. He also teaches Chiron to swim. Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae) open their home to Chiron when he needs it. He always ends up going home sooner or later, though, which means dealing with Paula’s jealous rages.

Besides Juan, Chiron also has a friend of sorts in Kevin (played as a child by Jaden Piner). Kevin is handsome and far more popular, yet he seeks Chiron’s company at odd moments. This confuses Chiron, who struggles to define his own feelings in the matter. There is a painful scene where he bluntly asks Juan, “What’s a faggot?” Clearly, someone has taunted him. Juan and Teresa try to encourage Chiron. His next question is, ”Do you sell my mother drugs?”moonlight-paula

The next section, Chiron, takes place in high school, with the final, Black, occurring several years later. Ashton Sanders plays Chiron as a teenager, and Trevante Rhodes has the role of Black (the adult Chiron). Jharrell Jerome plays sixteen-year-old Kevin, while Andre Holland is the adult Kevin. The different Chirons and Kevins resemble each other through mannerisms and speech patterns more than outward appearance, which is often how it happens in life.

Although Moonlight is not preachy or didactic in any way, it is only too easy to understand how events in one period of Chiron’s life influence the next. Less clear is how he manages to persevere-or why. The film provides a hint near the end, but in the gentlest of terms.moonlight-chiron

This is such a well-constructed film that it is almost difficult to write about disparate elements. The acting is strong throughout, with Mr. Ali, Ms. Harris, and Mr. Holland being especially worthy of mention. James Laxton’s cinematography, Nicholas Britell’s music, and the editing by Joi McMillion and Nat Sanders are vital in maintaining the spell of this extraordinary film.

Moonlight alludes to several themes, but the one that resonates with me is that of identity. To put it in Juan’s words,

“..At some point you’ve gotta decide for yourself who you gonna be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”

Powerful words, from a beautiful and powerful film.

Theme: Who You Gonna Be

Related Posts: Film Appreciation: Boyz N The Hood  http://www.thinkingcinema.com/film-appreciation-boyz-n-the-hood/

Who You Gonna Be: List For Week Ending October 30, 2016  http://www.thinkingcinema.com/who-you-gonna-be-list-for-week-ending-october-30-2016/

Film Appreciation: Boyz N The Hood

Film Appreciation: Boyz N The Hood

My Special Thanks To Bob Mondello of NPR News For His Recommendation Of Boyz N The Hood As This Week’s Companion Film John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood tells the story of Tre, Ricky, and Doughboy, three childhood friends who live in South Central, Los Angeles. The film opens in 1984, when Tre is thrownContinue Reading

Who You Gonna Be: List For Week Ending October 30, 2016

Who You Gonna Be: List For Week Ending October 30, 2016

The title for this week’s list comes from our review film, Moonlight. All list films this week are about youth making critical decisions about identity amid difficult circumstances. This is not intended as an all-inclusive list. Reader suggestions are welcome. If you know an addition to this list, please write using the comments below. MoonlightContinue Reading

Film Review: Certain Women

Film Review: Certain Women

Certain Women is an elegant, nuanced film that stays in your mind long after you have left the theater. Director Kelly Reinhardt, who also wrote the screenplay based on stories by Maile Meloy, takes you into the lives of three women from the American Northwest. They do not lead extraordinary lives. It is a measureContinue Reading

Multi-Storied: List For Week Ending October 23, 2016

Multi-Storied: List For Week Ending October 23, 2016

The films this week have multiple story lines that can intersect (as in Crash) or can exist independently (as in Yesterday Today And Tomorrow). Where the stories exist independently, there may be some common element between them (all stories in Yesterday Today And Tomorrow star Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastrioianni). This is not intended toContinue Reading

Film Review: A Man Called Ove

Film Review: A Man Called Ove

At first glance, Hannes Holm’s film A Man Called Ove may look a bit familiar. There have been many films about gruff old men whose nastiness conceals a very kind heart. What sets Ove apart is less its story than its storytelling. The film also benefits from excellent acting, particularly in the case of RolfContinue Reading

Film Appreciation: The Visitor

Film Appreciation: The Visitor

CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS The Visitor is low-key gem with a difficult message and one whale of a performance by lead actor Richard Jenkins. Tom McCarthy, the film’s writer/director, did considerable research in the Middle East before starting work on the project. Upon returning to the U.S., McCarthy visited members of New York City’s Arab community.Continue Reading

Film Review: I Am Not Madame Bovary

Film Review: I Am Not Madame Bovary

Hell hath no fury like a woman who has been scorned by a man and a government bureaucracy. That is the theme of Feng Xiaogang’s cinematic parable, I Am Not Madame Bovary. This film is equal parts social commentary and satire of the Chinese government. At the same time, it manages to be both compellingContinue Reading