Moonlight (2016)

3:50 PM

This is the Story of a Lifetime.
 Moonlight is directed by Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) and is this years Best Picture winner at the Oscars. The film stars Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (House of Cards, Luke Cage), Alex Hibbert, Janelle Monae (Hidden Figures, Rio 2), Oscar nominated Naomie Harris (Skyfall, 28 Days Later...), Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes (Westworld). "A chronicle of the childhood, adolescence and burgeoning adulthood of a young black man growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami". Moonlight has officially been crowned by the prestigious Academy as the best 2016 release - is it worthy of that title?

I don’t want to get hate for this review but I think Moonlight is of the quality of a typical Best Picture winner – it’s good but not incredible. The term ‘Best Picture’ to me suggests an outstanding and revolutionary piece of filmmaking. Don’t get me wrong, Moonlight is good, very good in fact but it just didn’t live up to that Best Picture hype – kind of like Spotlight last year. I thought the first two segments of Moonlight were fantastic – I was really on board with the whole film but some changes in pace and story in the final act took a lot of the greatness of the first 70/90 minutes away. Moonlight is good, just not great and that’s ok!

Even though Moonlight is a character study – there wasn’t actually a main actor who led the film throughout which was strange to see. I think Naomie Harris probably got the most screen-time as she appears in each of the three stages but still, Moonlight is definitely an ensemble film. I’ll start off speaking about Mahershala Ali because he is the one to win an Oscar for his performance – don’t get me wrong, Ali was good but it was nothing amazing or outstanding. It could possibly be argued that his performance is quite understated and normal, it’s nothing flashy and he does do a good job but compared to Davis in Fences, Stone in La La Land and Affleck in Manchester by the Sea, it just wasn’t as amazing – I would have probably given the award to Dev Patel for Lion or Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals. Ali is good and that is not to be forgotten. Naomie Harris was the best in my opinion, her character had the most interesting material out of the actors and she certainly did a good job with it. She only had 6 weeks to prepare and complete her performance – she was tremendous. The three boys/men playing Little, Chiron and Black were all very good and I’m surprised they haven’t received more recognition – I liked their performances in order of how far into the film they appeared so Hibbert was my favourite and while still good, I liked Rhodes least. However, I must give praise to Sanders who probably had the hardest stage to deal with – the teen years are when a person struggles with figuring everything out and you really felt for Chiron and the struggles he was going through which was partly down to Sanders’ performance. Moonlight is pretty much an all-black cast which was refreshing to see- it was even more refreshing considering the #OscarsSoWhite controversy from previous years – this is a real turnaround.

You could probably compare the story of Moonlight to that of Boyhood – it is essentially about watching a boy grow up – there are no major plot points or a structured narrative. However, what makes Moonlight different is it tells the story of a homosexual black man – Moonlight puts two groups that are not given enough stories the time to shine at once and that really is great. What I liked most though is those factors were not defining qualities of the character – he didn’t fit to typical Hollywood depictions of these groups, they were new and more realistic portrayals. The film is split into three parts so the next three sections will be about each stage in the film:

Little – Both this and the segment that follows it were incredibly strong and I really could see why this film gets so much explain. It was fascinating to see the world through the eyes of this type of character – he doesn’t have a strong mother or father figure so develops a connection with a drug dealer – how shocking is that? What’s even more staggering is that this film is based on real life events, it’s such a shame that a child is left with a drug dealer as a role model. Yes, the drug dealer in this film once again defies stereotypes as they are actually very caring but no child should be left in such a position. This stage of the film was also quite fascinating as it was clear from the outset that Little was an oddball within the young boys he played with – there is a great shot during a football match where all the other boys are getting stuck in but to the left is Little, still playing but on his own and left out. I also liked how the film dealt with confusion over sexual orientation – there are a few lines that Ali says to Little that are so very true and should be told to all children because it really doesn’t matter. This doesn’t really count as the ‘Little’ segment but the final shot of the film is Little looking at the sea and turning around – almost signifying he’s got his whole life in front of him (even though the audience know what lies ahead).

Chiron – Another very strong part of the film was the Chiron stage. This took place during the teen years and was probably the most shocking and saddening. We find that Chiron is still struggling to fit in but he’s still doing him. He gets bullied in class though which is hard to see and makes you dislike human beings even more. However, Chiron feels a form of love and I think this moment and scene was done very well – the chemistry was great between the two leads and it was so incredibly refreshing to see a homosexual romance on the big screen. However, soon later, Chiron comes tumbling down as he gets severely beaten up because of his sexuality – this really made me feel emotional – why couldn’t they just let him be him and be happy? Chiron finally does stand up for himself which was satisfying to see. The ending of this segment led me with high hopes for the final stage – I couldn’t wait to see Chiron being himself and rocking the world.

Black – That is why it was to my surprise that Chiron (now ‘Black’) became another version of Ali’s drug dealer character. Even though this story was reality and we can’t change reality, I just wasn’t satisfied with where the character ended up – he had such a promising future in the previous segment. However, I suppose that is reality – life doesn’t always go to plan and it makes perfect sense that Black basically became Ali – he was the closest thing to a father figure he had. I’ve done some research and some say the first two stages are the nature part of life and Black is the nurture – he’s conforming to society and just being what he knows to fit in. However, the film does end on a high has Black realises who he is again and feels love once again. The main problem I had with the ‘Black’ segment though is that the pace slowed down majorly – it was mostly just one long scene in a restaurant. I completely understand how this segment does fit in with everything else but for me, I felt a little disjointed and I wasn’t too satisfied with where the character went – that is the most important factor of a character study film – the audience has to be satisfied with the character and like them.

Moonlight is an important film that is of a good quality – these types of stories need to be told and hopefully with the Best Picture win, more will. The acting across the board is good and impressive but I couldn’t help thinking the wrong people are being spotlighted. I loved the first two acts, the third was much weaker in my opinion and has lessened how I feel towards the film. I would recommend Moonlight to everyone – not because it’s amazing but because it’s a film people need to see, especially today. 


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