I tried guys. I really tried to write a “normal” review for Moonlight, but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to give some snappy opening paragraph, followed by a plot synopsis and then a couple paragraphs talking about what’s good in this movie (can’t forget the snappy closing paragraph as well). I’m not saying anything about others who wrote their reviews like that (that’s literally all my reviews ever have been), but I just could not do that for Moonlight.
This is for a couple reasons, namely that Moonlight is one of the most captivating films I’ve ever seen. A true achievement in filmmaking, both equal parts emotionally investing and narratively satisfying. Every performance is off the charts. Every camera position and editing decision was purposefully thought about and perfectly executed. The score is so captivating I could not listen to it while writing this because it kept demanding me to stop and just reflect on the beauty of the film. Barry Jenkins has made a masterpiece and it has been pretty hard to try and put my thoughts to words.
Look, I’m a straight white guy who grew up in privilege, there shouldn’t be any reason for someone like me to connect to a story like Chiron’s in Moonlight. But I do. Taking place over three different time frames of our character’s life, Moonlight shines a light on a demographic that might not have ever had a film made for them: queer black males. While the story at hand is powerful enough, in addition to telling a beautiful love story Moonlight also perfectly captures the essence of growing up as an awkward teenager.
Gay or straight, Jenkins has made a film that strikes to the core of the human experience. We all long to be accepted by our peers. We all long for affirmation. We all long to truly be ourselves, to live out who we are meant to be. This is the aspect of Moonlight that has stuck with me this past week. I wasn’t going to be able to fit “spoke to the experience of life” into a 5 point scale.
Now to be clear, this is not a good movie because it simple spoke to me. That was just an added benefit. This is a great movie for the reasons listed above. As I look back I can’t think of something that let me down in the film. There wasn’t a subplot that went underdeveloped, there’s not a performance that was off putting and there is no instance where you feel a producer’s notes hindered the creative vision.
The three act structure of the film gives the opportunity for three different actors to embody our protagonist and each of them adds a layer of depth to the story. When Little was too afraid to talk, yes it was cute seeing a little boy be shy, but every single scene is teaching you something about this character and you start to feel for him. When Chiron is walking the halls of high school, you feel a little sense of hope that maybe this outsider is fitting in, but deep down you know that he is going through hell as he walks those hallways. The exact moment Black came on the screen I realized the character development that had happened between the second and third acts. That is the power of good filmmaking, without a single line of exposition I witnessed a powerful character arc before my eyes.
Yes, Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris are excellent, and I hope they win all the Awards, but even praising these great performances is limiting the scope of Moonlight’s strength as a film. There is not a single aspect that staggers above the others or a single filmmaking component that draws attention to itself. Because we have three actors playing the main character we don’t really have a “lead actor” in this film. Barry Jenkins is leading this film. He has assembled this cast, constructed this screenplay, worked with his editor and composer, and together, they have created something truly wonderful.
All that being said, I’m not really sure I can recommend everybody see Moonlight. This is an extremely progressive film that tells a story of a young man learning about his sexuality in the midst of a tough streets environment in the south. That’s not really a film that will fill theaters nationwide. But for those that do get the chance to see it, I hope you will have the same experience of me. Make no mistake, I sat down in a seat and watched a work of fiction for two hours. But in those two hours I learned so much about the beauty of another person’s experience while also finding a kindred spirit and seeing the things that unite us.
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