"Moonlight" (2016)- Movie Review

Written and Directed by Barry Jenkins
Based on the play by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Starring Mahershala Ali, Ashton Sanders and Naomi Harris

‘A Moving Masterwork’

Growing up is a tough but ultimately rewarding experience. It is often a time of confusion, self-discovery and identity formation. Although we often take it for granted, the experiences we have growing up for better or worse shape the people we eventually become.

Over the last few years, I’ve seen many films that have explored the process of growing up. Yet, few have been as authentic and believable as Barry Jenkins’ latest film “Moonlight”. A deeply moving coming-of-age story, it captures the hardships faced by an African-American man who grows up in poverty. Unlike most coming-of-age movies, which focus predominantly on the white male experience, “Moonlight” offers a peek at the struggles faced by African-Americans in society. Whether it is bullying, sexual identity or drug addiction, it addresses controversial issues that are all too often ignored in society. Despite it’s dark and depressing subject, “Moonlight” is a powerful film that opens your eyes to issues that you may not be aware of.

Based on the acclaimed play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, “Moonlight” tells the story of a black man named Chiron who grows up in poverty-stricken Miami in the 1980’s. Abandoned by his drug-addict mother and bullied by his peers, Chiron struggles to find his way through life as a gay black man. Broken into three sections, the film traces Chiron’s transformation from a shy and withdrawn child into a mature adult coming to terms with his past.

It’s a familiar story, but told in a way that is engrossing and engaging. Unlike most coming-of-age dramas which go from one plot point to another, “Moonlight” uses three different acts to show the passage of time in Chiron’s life. Director Barry Jenkins uses this clever technique to immerse the viewer in Chiron’s world. As a viewer, you are immediately drawn to Chiron as a person and can easily identify with his struggles. It’s a testament to Barry Jenkins’ storytelling and the powerful performances given by a talented cast. By the end of it all, you almost forget that you’re watching a movie and feel as if you’ve seen a person’s life unfold onscreen.

This sense of realism is what sets “Moonlight” apart from other films of it’s type. It is grounded in a sense of reality that you don’t often see in movies nowadays. Director Barry Jenkins doesn’t hold back from showing the harsh reality faced by African-Americans in society. Each character in the film is flawed and complicated, but at the same time relatable. Take, for example, Chiron. Although he is a gay black man, Chiron’s journey is universal and one that everyone can relate to. The obstacles that he faces, such as bullying, sexual orientation and drug-addiction, are relevant in the world we live in today. Through Chiron’s journey, “Moonlight” sheds light on issues which are timely in the world.

Bringing Chiron’s journey to life are talented actors who deliver unforgettable performances. Each actor is worthy of recognition, but perhaps the most impressive performances are given by the three actors that portray Chiron. Alex Hibbert captures the shy and quiet nature of Chiron’s personality as a child. Although he doesn’t speak much, Hibbert communicates emotions through his expressions and is truly talented for his age. Ashton Sanders, who portrays Chiron as a teenager, is another star in the making. In a heartbreaking performance, he captures the loneliness faced by an adolescent who doesn’t fit in with his peers. Finally, Trevante Rhodes is genuine and heartfelt as a young man coming to terms with his past.

The supporting cast also deserves the utmost praise and recognition, especially Naomie Harris. As a drug-addict mother who struggles to raise her child, she is totally believable. Although it is not easy to play a drug-addict, she delivers a heartbreaking performance that reveals the hardships of living such a life.

Although “Moonlight” is undeniably unforgettable, ultimately it is not a flawless film. If there’s a minor drawback to the movie, it suffers from a slow pace that tests the viewer’s patience. Although there are moments of tension, overall it is a quiet and intimate film that takes time to unfold. While it’s certainly never boring, towards the end the film drags and is a little longer than necessary. As a result, “Moonlight” may not satisfy mainstream audiences looking for entertainment.

On a further note, it is also worth mentioning that “Moonlight” is one of those films that may not appeal towards everyone. Movie-goers may be drawn away by the film’s depressing subject matter. It is not easy to watch a boy abandoned by his mother, bullied and neglected by society.

Nevertheless, fans of coming-of-age dramas will definitely enjoy “Moonlight” and so will movie-goers seeking enlightening entertainment. A sublime piece of filmmaking, it will stay with you long after you leave the theater. In a year that has proven to be disappointing for movies, it will restore your faith in Cinema.

4.5/5 stars

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