Moonlight

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Early on in this film, there’s a scene where a mentor to a young boy talks about living in Cuba and running around the beach and having a woman tell him, “In the moonlight, black boys look blue.” This quote was the title for the play, shortened for the film to the less interesting title “Moonlight.”

It follows Chiron during three chapters (and various nicknames) of his life. He’s a young child (“Little”) that’s quiet and often bullied, a high school student that has similar problems, and an adult that’s a bit more muscular and comfortable in his own skin. Sort of.

This movie reminds me a lot of Boyhood, and both films are a bit overrated by critics.

The film starts with Chiron as a boy (Alex Hibbert), who is running from bullies. A big time drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali, who is amazing) takes a liking to him. Now…you know how much we all made fun of the “hookers with a heart of gold” on screen? You have to suspend a bit of disbelief, like you did with the hookers, and just appreciate how wonderful Juan is to the kid. He sees he has no male role model, and takes him under his wing. There’s a scene where he takes Chiron to the ocean for the first time. It’s human nature at its finest, and brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it now, a few months after I’ve seen it.

Juan’s wife is played by musician/entertainer Janelle Monae, who also has a motherly way with the boy that’s heartwarming. She’s a bit reluctant, at first, to always having Chiron around. Perhaps there could’ve been a line of dialogue as to why Juan is so interested in Chiron. We shouldn’t be left to wonder if he was raised without a father, or picked on by bullies. Yet other times, I preferred the subtle nature of the picture.

One of the disappointing things in the film is  Naomie Harris’ mother character, The story arc isn’t satisfying and a bit cliche.

When we get to the second of the three chapters, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is in high school. The two bullies he tries avoiding…are the most realistic, and intimidating bullies I’ve seen on film in years. It’s also nice to see he has a few friends, and isn’t a complete loner.

In regard to the third chapter, any critic that tells you anything about it, is doing a disservice. You can’t say anything about the characters or what happens, and have it not be a spoiler. Suffice to say, the actor playing the oldest Chiron (now nicknamed “Black” and played well by Trevante Rhodes) is perfect.

Barry Jenkins directed this picture, co-writing it with playwright Tarell McCraney (who himself is a gay African-American). It got so much right. It was the romantic and heartbreaking story that I wish Brokeback Mountain had been.

It was also frustrating that we had a few cliches, shaky camera, and the spinning camera that’s circling around actors. Yet I’ll give Jenkins credit for not getting too gimmicky.

So many of the small moments were perfectly done. For example, when Chiron comes home from school and sees her mom’s boyfriend. He isn’t mean or threatening. He says hello and seems nice enough. Yet we see in his eyes, that it’s yet another guy in a long string of guys she brings home.

Another time, Juan tells Chiron, when talking about his mother, “I didn’t like her when I was a kid, either. I miss her like hell now, though. That’s all I’m gonna say about that.”

Wow.

At times, this movie was so poetic. Other times, self-indulgent and slow. Overall, it needed to be a more developed story.

The editing was weak, and so was some of the camera work.

Yet I saw this movie two months ago, and I can’t stop thinking about it. When a film is that thought provoking, you got something rather special on your hands.

You’ll be seeing this movie around Oscar time, so you might want to catch it now.

3 stars out of 5.