Movie Review: Moonlight (2016)


Title: Moonlight
Release Date: October 21, 2016
Director: Barry Jenkins
Production Company: A24 | Plan B Entertainment | Pastel Productions
Summary/Review:

Moonlight is a compelling drama about masculinity, the search for identity, and particularly homosexual identity focusing on a character named Chiron at three different periods in his life.  The movie begins with the withdrawn child Chiron (Alex Hibbert) running away from bullies in his working-class Miami neighborhood and hiding in a crackhouse.  He’s rescued by Juan (an amazing performance by Mahershala Ali), a middle-aged Cuban man who takes Chiron home to meet his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe, also awesome), when Chiron is too shy to speak about where he lives.

Juan and Chiron’s middle-class home becomes a stable place for Chiron to visit, and Juan becomes the supportive father figure he needs.  Chiron’s father is not in his life, and his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) is emotionally distant, working long hours and suffering from addiction.  The crushing irony is that Juan’s comfortable life is due to the money he makes as a drug dealer, and Paula is one of his customers.

The second segment focuses on Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders) as a high school student.  He is still reserved and isolated, and Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), who we saw as a boy being friendly to Chiron, is now Chiron’s only real friend.  His mother’s addiction and hostile behavior have only grown worse.  Juan has died in the intervening years, but Chiron still visits Teresa. The main plot lines of this segment are Chiron attempting to avoid the school bully Terrel (Patrick Decile), and the romantic intimacy that grows.  Unfortunately, circumstances lead to brutally violent conflict and Chiron going to juvenile detention.

In the final segment, an adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) lives in Atlanta, and now deals drugs himself.  He receives a call from Kevin (André Holland) out of the blue, and it forces Chiron to reexamine suppressed memories and feelings. He visits Paula at a drug rehabilitation center and reconciles with her, then drives to Miami to visit the restaurant where Kevin works as a cook.  The final portion of this movie is an intense series of conversations between the two men that contain enough hesitation and buried emotions to put a Merchant Ivory film to shame. I joke, but it’s rare for a Hollywood film to give dialogue between two actors the space to breath, and Rhodes and Holland act the hell out of it.

This is an important movie, because honest depictions of homosexuality among Black and/or working class people are practically unheard of.  It’s also a delicate examination of masculinity and the paths it forces boys and men to follow that lead to harm and isolation.  It’s not the easiest movie to watch as there is suffering and violence that’s hard to look at straight on, but it does come to a hopeful conclusion.

Rating: ****1/2

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