It’s hard to not go in with huge expectations when Moonlight is one of the most critically-acclaimed movies of the year. Right now, it’s sitting at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, with only 3 reviews (out of 165) in the negative.
Moonlight is three distinct sections, each one cataloging a time in the life of a young man named Chiron (pronounced Shy-rone). The first act (Alex Hibbert) follows Chiron as he’s bullied and beaten up by kids, eventually finding a father figure of sorts in a man and his wife (Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monae). Chiron’s life at home isn’t ideal, his mom (Naomie Harris) negligent and becoming more and more dependent on drugs. This is all made worse by Chiron’s confusion about his sexuality, which isn’t a topic open for discussion in the inner city of Miami. We then move to a high-school age Chiron (Ashton Sanders), who is still bullied and still taunted but finds solace with a key friend. Our final chapter is an adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes). I’m leaving the descriptions of the second and third chapters vague as to avoid spoilers.
This film is a masterpiece, it’s no wonder it’s receiving stellar reviews.
Let me preface with this… This is a film. This isn’t a popcorn flick or something you go to for escapism. This is dark and dirty and feels absolutely real. It doesn’t adhere to the same rules that most movies do. If you’re okay with that and you want to see a look into a world not often shown in mainstream media, this movie will do it.
The biggest compliment I can give this movie is that it feels authentic. It doesn’t feel like we’re watching a scripted series of scenes. This feels like we’re there. The dialogue is seamless and rare, though feels natural. Our three main actors as Chiron are all fantastic and, without saying much dialogue, convey a sense of character that is absent from most movies. The way he avoids eye contact, the way he struggles to even say a single word… It’s fantastic and says so much.
This movie treats the audience like we’re intelligent. It doesn’t bash us over the head with exposition, which means you need to sometimes read between the lines. Characters change and disappear over the course of the movie, leaving it up to you to figure out all those little mysteries.
The cinematography in this film is fantastic as well, not hesitating to linger and zoom, pushing us way past our comfort levels. The colors are vivid, making Miami feel like another character that we’re getting to know.
Moonlight doesn’t cater to our comfort levels. It’s not graphic necessarily, but it’s uncomfortable in moments. But it’s important, moments that mean something to this one man. Moments that make him into the man that he becomes. Knowing that it’s tackling issues like sexuality, addiction, violence… It’s not a child-friendly movie or one you’d likely want to watch with family.
I also want to give a shoutout to the supporting actors and actresses in this film, most notably Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris. Harris especially delivers a chilling performance that gives you much context into the struggles that Chiron is facing and her arc is just as dramatic as his.
What doesn’t work?
The literal only one thing that I can think of is that this movie feels long, probably because of its three-part nature. It also revels in silence, meaning that some moments feel long and drawn out, though its done to great effect and very purposefully.
And this isn’t really a “doesn’t work” but more like another reminder of this movie’s mature content. If you don’t want to see an emotionally-intense journey as a young boy finds out what it means to be black and gay in the inner city… this movie may not be for you. It’s going to likely make you uncomfortable but it’s through these moments that we can witness a story not often told.
Moonlight is fantastic, managing to cast three stellar actors to play one character in various key moments of his life. It’s intense, with scenes that will knock the wind out of you and scenes that feel like they’re actually happening. The authenticity is astounding, though this hits you hard in the moments you don’t want it all to be real. This will undoubtedly be a major contender in awards season, make sure you see it now.