web analytics
Home / Reviews / Film Reviews / Review: ‘Moonlight’ (★★★★)

Review: ‘Moonlight’ (★★★★)

Moonlight
Moonlight

Like most people I love going to the movies to be entertained. But I also use movies as my portal to worlds I don’t know. I’m not a football fan, for example, but I love the movie Friday Night Lights. I love almost any good sports movie because it’s my ‘in’ to that world. At the same time I also crave representation in film; seeing something of myself so that I know that someone else feels what I feel or felt what I felt.

Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight does all of that and more. It’s elegant art but it’s also vital social commentary, never tipping its hand to one side or the other, and where they converge is a thing of beauty.

Deconstructing the toxic masculinity of mid 80s-90s Miami for queer African-American men is not an easy task. But Jenkins’ (and Tarell Alvin McRaney from his semi-autobiographical unproduced play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue) keeps the film from ever leaning to indulgence or preachiness of its subject matter. As told in three parts, the growth from child to man of Chiron (pronounced Shy-rone) is so mesmerizing, so deeply felt, that the desire for safety, identity, and intimacy that he feels makes it easy for us to travel with him on his journey.

Jenkins has mentioned Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times as an influence for Moonlight but I also get the best of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady and Wong-Kar Wai’s Happy Together with the very uniquely American perspective and sensibility of Sean Baker’s Tangerine.

INTERVIEW: Barry Jenkins on being an active ally, who he’s influenced by and the ensemble of MOONLIGHT

The performances by the three actors portraying Chiron throughout his life – Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes are uniformly excellent. Young Hibbert is given the task of traversing the film’s most difficult conversation (his “What’s a faggot?” scene is permanently seared in my mind now) and is genuine and startlingly good. As teenage Chiron, Sanders is perfectly pent up, secretive and introverted. Rhodes, as adult Chiron – all muscle and hustle – is hauntingly broken yet deeply hopeful. As Juan, the neighborhood drug dealer that takes the fatherless Chiron under his wing, Mahershala Ali delivers an Oscar-worthy performance, subverting what you think a character like this would be and definitely from what you’ve seen before. Singer Janelle Monáe is fantastic as Juan’s girlfriend and a sympathetic ear to Chiron. As Chiron’s drug addict mother, Naomie Harris (the only actor to appear in all three sequences) manages an extremely fragile balance of a good mother who turns bad and ultimately needs forgiveness. It’s a physically and emotionally lived in performance. Andre Holland, as Chiron’s now grown up friend Kevin (with whom he has his first experience of burgeoning sexuality) has an ease and charm and in just a few short scenes conveys tremendous empathy and possibility.

Moonlight is an important and vital piece of black cinema, especially now. It’s only through visibility that compassion can be nurtured and fostered, transforming solitude and confusion into hope and understanding. It’s the best film of the year.

four-stars

About Erik Anderson

Erik blames his mother for his love of all things Oscar, having watched them together since he opened his eyes. They also watched Miss Universe religiously every year (the pageantry!) and Erik came to the conclusion that the combination of these two things ultimately led him down the path to obsessing about awards and ACTRESSING. He began at GoldDerby, led by Tom O’Neill and then migrated over to Oscarwatch (now AwardsDaily), headed up by Sasha Stone before breaking off to create AwardsWatch. He is a member of the International Cinephile Society, GALECA (Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association), the International Press Academy and is the founder/editor of AwardsWatch.

Check Also

Frameline 41 Goes Genre Queer: Full Lineup of San Francisco LGBTQ Film Festival Announced

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Frameline , the world’s longest-running and largest showcase of queer cinema, ...

  • LoveforBuzz

    I am ready for this to hit my eyes and my heart. I am so glad that a film about this subject matter is getting serious consideration from the film community. And if Mahershala Ali, Andre Holland, and Naomie Harris can get Oscar noms I would love it. I have been rooting for Harris to get recognition for years. (Her and Thandie Newton are amazing.) As well I am excited Jenkins and the film might get a push. It’s just exciting. Between this Hidden Figures, and Fences there should not be a OscarSoWhite controversy.