Saturday, November 12, 2016

"Moonlight" Shines

Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight is a very distinctive coming of age story about one's struggle with identity that is absolutely spellbinding from the first frame all the way down to its last.

Moonlight follows a young boy named Chiron over three chapters of his life as he deals with life in poverty stricken Miami in the "War On Drugs" era, his troubled relationship with his crack addicted mother played brilliantly by Naomie Harris, and his homosexuality.

The character of Chiron is beautifully brought to life by the three main actors portraying him that all manage to capture his consistent quietness and reserved nature. Yet each actor brings out distinctive qualities: Chiron from the first chapter called "Little" is a boy of literally few words, trying to make sense of the world around him. Chiron in the second chapter called "Chiron" is somebody who lives in constant fear and questions his masculinity once he becomes pushed around by bullies at school. Lastly, the Chiron in the final chapter called "Black" is a grown man with a brutish figure and wears grills on his teeth yet behind that is still the same shy boy of few words as he was when he was little. All three distinctive yet connected performances to the same complex characterization.

While it may be Chiron's story, the film has an outstanding supporting cast. Naomie Harris has a sparse amount of screen time as Chiron's addict mother, Paula, but she knocks it out of the park. What could've been a caricatural performance is a performance with different layers. Paula is not only self-destructive with her addiction but also, through small facial glimpse, we see her bitterness and self-loathing. Another person who stands out is Mahershala Ali as Juan, a drug dealing surrogate father to Chiron. He only appears in the first third of the picture but he leaves you wanting more because he lights up the screen with subtle compassion. Also, Janelle Monae in her acting debut makes up the most of her screen time as Juan's girlfriend Teresa who acts as a kindly, rather sisterly figure to Chiron. After seeing her in this, I can't wait to see what she brings in Hidden Figures and in more movie roles in the future. Lastly, Andre Holland appears in the last third as Kevin, Chiron's love interest who he's known all his life and he owns every minute of his screentime with his gleaming charisma and constant life reflection. This is perhaps the best acting ensemble I've seen all year.

Every other technique is brought to life amazingly. The cinematography by James Laxton always keeps your eyes glued to the screen whether he uses a long tracking shot or uses a subtle color scheme. The eclectic music that mixes Nicholas Britell's classical yet modernized score along with a hip-hop soundtrack. The editing by Nat Sanders and Joi McMillan allows the film to move at a breezy pace. All techniques help make the film feel alive and are successfully orchestrated by director Barry Jenkins.

Lastly, what I found to be amazing is that precisely captures what it's like to grow up as a gay individual. I could understand Chiron's pain because when I was younger, kids used to call me a faggot while sort of baiting me into coming out and I would walk around in fear of getting picked on. Also, these days, whenever I start to break down in tears, I suddenly question how masculine I really am. It is so rare that I get to see a film that relates to me so closely and I think anyone who has struggled with their identity can identify with this movie whether they're gay or straight, black or white, etc..

Overall, Moonlight is a breathtaking poetic experience that mesmerizes at every single turn. Every frame, every performance, every chapter, just...everything. Just a beautiful, beautiful movie.

Grade: A+