“For a long time I tried not to remember. Tried to forget everything.”
Moonlight is a strange film. I don’t mean creepy-strange; I mean that it’s a tough film to talk about and review without spoiling anything. This Oscar nominated drama about the life of a young black kid growing up in Florida seemed as if it would be just like any other of its ilk. But when you go into these films having not seen a trailer for it yet, you do so with little expectations (besides of the fact that it already received its Oscar nominations) and you can just sit and enjoy. And that’s what I did.
Told across three acts, Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a young boy who lives on the poverty line with so many like him. What makes him different from his peers – dealing with a drug addict mother (Naomie Harris), struggling with money, and living in a time and place where drugs are a relatively viable option as a career or a habit – is that he is also struggling with his sexuality at the same time.
Being from a time and a place where it’s not considered ok to even question your sexual orientation, Chiron has a lifelong fight ahead of him that we witness from the perspective of a young boy, a teenager in high school and as a grown man.
Moonlight is a weirdly understated film. While it has all the hallmarks of a perfect Oscar film; when you leave the cinema, you almost feel like there’s something missing. I honestly can’t put my finger on it. I want to say I felt empty when I left, but that’s not the right word. I got everything that I wanted (and more) but it just left us with no conclusion, no real ending and nothing to be happy about. Maybe that’s the point?
The three separate actors that play Chiron (Alex Hibbert as “Little” Chiron, Ashton Sanders as Teen Chiron, and Trevante Rhodes as “Black” Chiron) all do a great job in making the character their own in their respective acts. It’s clear that each actor in the different stages of the young man’s life sees a whole new set of troubles and a whole new way to illustrate Chiron’s character, dependant on their age and surroundings. It’s an interesting take on what I can only imagine to be a really difficult thing to portray once, let alone three times.
I would have liked to have seen more from Naomie Harris’ character as Chiron’s drug-addicted mother who, even during his young high school days, only pays attention to her son for her own selfish reasons. She was so very good in the role that more of her would have been great. The same goes for singer Janelle Monáe, who plays Theresa, the girlfriend of a drug dealer and the only stable person in Chiron’s life. She was so good with the little that she had to do, I really wanted to see more of what she could have done.
Grabbing all the glory though (and a nomination for Best Supporting Actor), is Mahershala Ali. And deservedly so. As Juan, an immigrant drug dealer who befriends Chiron at a very young age and teaches him that it’s ok to be himself, he does a splendid job. Much the same as everyone else in Moonlight, I would have liked to have seen more of him, but what we did see was outstanding.
More or less around this time last year, I battered The Danish Girl for taking a story that should have enlightened and informed people that haven’t lived through the situation it is portraying, in a time when more people need to understand it, and wasting it with shit performances and storytelling. Tom Hooper’s biographical drama starring Eddie Redmayne felt insulting and left me apathetic to a situation I would like to be able to understand more clearly. Moonlight is the exact opposite.
It is impossible for me to even comprehend what it must be like to live through these situations. I don’t say that in a macho “I’m straight god dammit” kind of way; I say it in an “I want to know what it’s like, please try to help me understand” kind of way. There’s only a certain amount of these films you can watch for sheer entertainment value before you start hoping that a point emerges; and I believe that Moonlight does just that. I mean, I didn’t suddenly turn into a young black kid in Florida wondering whether or not I was gay! But it did tell its story with a passion that I don’t think I’ve seen recently – certainly not in that shockingly poor biopic from last year – and I can honestly say that I came out of the cinema ever so slightly humbled. It’s just a beautiful film.
The tag line for writer / director Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is: “The story of a lifetime”. That certainly rang true in more ways than I had anticipated.