Director/writer Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) latest film, Moonlight, is a beautiful tale of self discovery, sexual identity, relationships, and connection.
Adapted from a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight focuses on a young man named Chiron and his journey from boyhood to adulthood. Chiron’s story is divided into three acts: I. Little, II. Chrion, and III. Black – each act focusing on a specific time in his life.
In the first chapter, Chiron is known as “Little” (played by Alex Hibbert). He’s a small kid who doesn’t say much. He meets a drug dealer named Juan (Mashershala Ali) who becomes a father figure to some extent. Later the story introduces Chiron’s mom (played by Naomie Harris) and his friend Kevin.
As the film moves from chapter to chapter, it follows Chiron’s relationships with the people in his live over the years, and being a young gay black man in Miami.
The three chapters are unique as their names. Each one is a piece of the puzzle that’s Chiron’s journey, and could stand alone as a short film about the life as a young man. Ashton Sanders, who plays Chiron in the second chapter, is a far cry from “Little” but still walks with his head down and barely lifts his eyes up – even when he’s eating. Trevante Rhodes plays an older Chiron in the last chapter. He’s a different Chiron from the way he carries himself to the way he talks. Yet, he’s able to carry the same spirit of the character in the first two chapters.
Moonlight wouldn’t be the strong film it is without its amazing performances. Each act has a scene that shows off Jenkin’s incredible filmmaking and another scene that’s emotionally devastating. Two of the best scenes occur at the end of the first act and the very last scene in the film. Both scenes have captivating performances with the emotion and passion of 10 rom-coms. To Jenkin’s credit, he lets the film breathe in those moments. It’s almost as if he placed the camera down and left the room. It’s not just about what’s said during those scenes, but the silence during those moments that carries so much of what the characters are feeling and thinking.
The connecting performance for each act is Naomie Harris who plays Chiron’s mom. Harris is a different woman in each act. Harris is most known for her roles in James Bond, brings her A game every time she shows up onscreen.
Moonlight is one of the year’s best films. It’s a beautiful film from beginning to end. The story pulls you in from the opening moments and never lets go. For a film that deals with heavy subject matter, none of it feels heavy-handed. Most films that pull at your heartstrings drop breadcrumbs that lead to heartbreak. Moonlight, on the other hand, drops all of the emotions right at your doorstep and walks way.