While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the focal point of “Moonlight”, director Barry Jenkins’ second feature is, every aspect of the film can speak to someone. Not only is it universally touching, the widespread acclaim the film is receiving have many guaranteeing it will garner a hefty number of awards.
“Did any gay man who came of age, as I did, in the era of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and AIDS, think he’d survive to see a version of his life told onscreen with such knowledge, unpredictability, and grace?,” said Hilton Als in his write-up for thenewyorker.com.
The main character Chiron’s story is told from when he is an adolescent, teen, and then in his late 20s. His mother is a drug addict, his father figure is a drug dealer, and his friends are few. Newcomers Alex Hibbert and Ashton Sanders, as well as tv show veteran Trevante Rhodes, portray the leading man masterfully at different points. However, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali shine onscreen, and while their camera-time is brief, their portrayals of Paula, a drug addict and Juan, a drug dealer, respectively, are meaningful and thought provoking
“To say that Mr. Jenkins, Mr. McCraney (and the formidable Mr. Ali) humanize Juan is to get it exactly backward. Nobody in Juan’s situation — or in Chiron’s or Paula’s — has ever been anything other than human. You might think that would go without saying by now, but the radical, revelatory power of this movie suggests otherwise…. “Moonlight” dwells on the dignity, beauty and terrible vulnerability of black bodies, on the existential and physical matter of black lives,” wrote A.O. Scott for nytimes.com.
So what exactly makes the film so praiseworthy?
“It is one of those rare pieces of filmmaking that stays completely focused on its characters while also feeling like it’s dealing with universal themes about identity, sexuality, family, and, most of all, masculinity. And yet it’s never preachy or moralizing. It is a movie in which deep, complex themes are reflected through character first and foremost,” according to Brian Tallerico of rogerebert.com. The site gave the film four stars.
“”Moonlight” is nothing if not its own film. Its story of aching loneliness, sexual longing and the despair of blasted lives, the emphasis it puts on the great difficulty and the equally powerful necessity of intimate human connection, the way it persuasively insists on the shared humanity of marginalized communities, makes it feel like a film we’ve been waiting for for a very long time,” wrote Kenneth Turan of the latimes.com.
If you haven’t yet, I strongly urge you to make your way to the theater to see “Moonlight.” It provokes conversations that need to be had, and tells a story that had to told in the exact way Jenkins did. As Scott said, “to know Chiron is a privilege.”
The film is rated R, for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence and language. It has running time of 1 hour, 50 minutes