‘Moonlight’ Is Heartfelt and Beautifully Acted

It’s a film that brilliantly confronts aspects of the gay struggle often overlooked on screen.

Moonlight

Destined to be one of the most acclaimed films of the year, “Moonlight” is a rare gem. An unforgettable drama, which explores race, sexuality, masculinity and romance, it follows a young man’s coming of age in South Florida over the course of two decades.

MoonlightTold in three chapters, the opening scene introduces us to 10-year-old Chiron (Alex Hibbert), a scrawny, effeminate boy nicknamed Little, who is a constant target of bullies at his school because he is ‘deemed different.’ Chased by his peers, after school one day, he seeks shelter in a derelict drug house. Help arrives in the form of drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali), who brings Chiron to the home he shares with his girlfriend Theresa (Janelle Monáe) where’s he’s fed and nurtured.  When he is finally taken home, we meet his mother (Naomie Harris), a functioning caregiver with a crack addiction.

Those poignant scenes tell us a whole lot about the main character and those around him and by the time we see Chiron in the second chapter, (now played by Ashton Sanders), he’s sixteen. Although, he’s developed a slightly tougher exterior, he’s still navigating the best route to avoid the brutal high-school bullies, and is still grappling with his sexuality.

His mother is now a full-fledged addict, neglecting his needs in favor of her next fix. Juan is no longer in the picture, although Theresa is still his safe sanctuary and gives him money, shelter and comfort when he needs it. MoonlightHe seeks solace at the beach at times and accepts kindness from his friend Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) who also flirts with him. A scuffle at school where he finally delivers his brand of justice on his bullies ends with a stint in a juvenile detention center.

In the final chapter, we meet a thirty something year old Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), who is now a hardened drug dealer and is known by the street name of Black. It’s then he emotionally reconnects with his childhood friend Kevin (now played André Holland) in a resonating scene.

It’s impossible not to root for Chiron as he tries to assert his identity. There’s a heartbreaking scene where a young Chiron asks Juan; “Am I a faggot?” To which Juan answers, “At some point, you’ve got to decide for yourself who you want to be.”

“Moonlight” tackles the social stigma around homosexuality, but doesn’t bow to melodrama. There is beauty, intimacy, tenderness and sensitivity to many of the scenes and director Barry Jenkins works in a lot in close-ups, keeping the complicated dynamics of Chiron’s life authentic. The performances all feel real as it chronicles the life of a young black, gay man from childhood to adulthood.

Moonlight

Beautifully photographed, slow moving and episodic, it confronts aspects of the gay struggle often overlooked on screen, and does so with energy, visuals and an infectious soundtrack. You don’t have to be black or gay to appreciate “Moonlight.” Heartfelt and beautifully acted, this film captures the conflicting emotions of the characters —and is clever enough at 110 minutes not to overstay its welcome.

Check out the trailer below:

(pictured (top) Alex Hibbert, (middle) Alex Hibbert and Mahershala Ali, Trevante Rhodes with André Holland, (bottom) Ashton Sanders

Samantha Ofole-Prince is an entertainment journalist who covers industry-specific news. Follow her on twitter @SamanthaOfole

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