‘MOONLIGHT’ IS A BRILLIANT COMING-OF-AGE EXPERIENCE
Movies like this don’t come out often enough. Movies that grab your attention from the first frame emerging until the final frame fades away. Movies where every second spent not looking at the screen is a second wasted. Movies that manage to do everything so flawlessly that you wonder why other ones can’t do it this well. Movies that I wish didn’t have to end. Moonlight is all of these things and more, and the result is a movie that ranks head and shoulders above almost every film this year.
From writer and director Barry Jenkins, the story of Moonlight is not one that is frequently told on the big screen. Presented in three distinct eras, the film chronicles an African American boy named Chiron through his childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Growing up in a poor neighborhood in Miami, Chiron deals most notably with familial issues with his mother, bullies at school, and confusion over his sexuality. Issues like these carry over between the three eras, as we see Chiron come to face them in this idiosyncratic coming-of-age film.
The performances across the board here are all wonderful, especially the three main actors portraying Chiron in different periods of his life. They all portray him as a quiet and sheltered young man, struggling to connect to the world in which he feels isolated. As a result, we never feel as if the three actors are giving different performances, but rather three performances that blend into a wonderful whole, creating a continuous feel of who Chiron is throughout the movie. Mahershala Ali gives a stunning performance here as Juan, a drug dealer who befriends Chiron as a young boy and makes him question what he aspires to grow up to be. Naomie Harris is also great here as Chiron’s mother, transforming through the three eras in a similar way that her son does as well. Both Ali and Harris should definitely be kept in mind come Oscar season; both are incredibly worthy of Supporting Actor and Actress nominations.
Although the work in front of the camera shines, it’s the work behind the camera here that shines even brighter. Cinematographer James Laxton does a wonderful job with color here; whether it be Chiron’s mom standing in a neon-lit hallway, or Chiron standing in front of a moonlit beach. The colors here help accentuate the melancholy tone that pervades the film, as each color environment Chiron finds himself in adds to the bleak world that he sees. Another wonderful production element here is the film’s soundtrack and score, which contains a good amount of classical music that enhances both the lighter and darker moments of the film. These behind the camera elements all combine to create a beautiful look and feel on the screen that hasn’t quite been captured on film before.
Towards the beginning of the film, Juan asks a young Chiron, “Who do you want to be?” And as the film comes to a close, when we see Chiron as a young adult, we have a feeling that he still may not have an answer to that question he was asked many years ago. Although he has become a physically harder and toughened young man, he is still affected by the events and people around him very easily, lending to his quiet persona that sticks with him throughout the whole film. Moonlight succeeds wildly as a coming-of-age film that centers around a protagonist too-often forgot about in films, and challenges us to think about who we are and how to accept ourselves.