Barry Jenkins writes and directs the story of a young man through three pivotal moments in his life as he struggles to cope with the realities of being bullied, a junkie Mother, and his own sexuality.
January is the month were we usually see the finest and the worst films of the year. For every Resident Evil abomination we get a movie like Moonlight. So for the past four years that I’ve been doing this job, it’s been an honour to do so, January is the most conflicted month for my reviews.
Sitting in our least favourite screen in Dublin we watched some of the finest performances that you could hope to see, fine performances that chime out the simple and yet powerful script. Moonlight is not going to be for everyone that goes to the cinema but anyone who likes a strong story will find a lot to love here. Jenkins manages to write a script that is so much for our time and yet also get performances from actors that could reinvent their careers. In particular Naomie Harris, who you’ll know from being Miss Moneypenny in the latest Bond Movies, and the ever amazing and constant Mahershala Ali.
The film is about Chiron, a young boy who suspects that he is gay at his tender age and is being bullied but he is taken under the wing of a local drug dealer who feels more like a Father figure to Chiron than mentor. The relationship at the young age is complicated as the Dealer (Ali) is the one selling drugs to Chiron’s mother (Harris). Each of the three stages of Chiron’s life are named after what he is called during that period. At the start he’s called Little, as he’s smaller than some of the other boys, then Chiron in high school, finally Black when he’s in his 20’s and working the streets as a dealer. Each of the three different ages is obviously played by three different actors who all manage to offer something unique to the same character and yet enough familiarity that you know that this is the same person.
You start to feel instantly for the child that becomes the man, who knows that his homosexuality is going to cause more problems for him, in a poor neighbourhood, a masculine world, it’s obvious that there are going to be hardships. The moments of bullying and harsh nature of a parent addicted to crack are countered by the few times of tenderness that Chiron finds through his life.
This simplistically presented film is just a tonic for the soul with empowered performances from outstanding actors. Moonlight takes a mirror and holds it up to modern American life in a poor neighbourhood, takes some reality, and makes the most compelling drama that I’ve seen in a long time. While the film deals with the sexuality of Chiron it does so in the most intelligent way as it knows that the audience can find their way through the story to the truth.
It’s a hard watch for some of the film as you care for Chiron at every point in his life and you want the best for him. It’s never going to be an easy life for him, no matter what the choices are, but the times where he’s happy make you feel happy. If you want to see towering performances and an honest story then Jenkins has made the tonic for you.
Director: Barry Jenkins
Writers: Barry Jenkins (screenplay), Tarell Alvin McCraney (story by)
Stars: Mahershala Ali, Shariff Earp, Duan Sanderson