“Moonlight” is probably THEE most acclaimed film of 2016. Not only are critics embracing it, but it’s been popular with art film audiences too. And its accolades are mostly deserved. For its quiet and tender moments, as well as some superb performances, I LOVE “Moonlight”. Of course, there’s also the all-too-familiar cliché roles, given to Naomie Harris and Janelle Monae. But I’ll fault a lapse in Barry Jenkins screenplay for those missteps. However, his direction is top-notch–extremely patient and exacting. Plus, Mr. Jenkins has a powerhouse in the first act, embodying the role of Juan, with the electrifying presence of Mahershala Ali. Oscar may come calling.
The film is broken down into three parts, all focusing on the troubled inner city life of young, sensitive Chiron, first as a boy (Alex Hibbert), then as a teenager (Ashton Sanders), and finally as a young adult (Trevante Rhodes). Surrounded by drugs and violence as a child, Chiron is taken under the benevolent wing of crack dealer Juan (the charismatic Mr. Ali), and his girlfriend Teresa (Ms. Monae, making the most of what she’s been given). Neglected at home by his absentee mom, Paula (Naomie Harris, a little overbearing), Chiron is bullied as a teenager, and confused by his burgeoning sexuality. By young adulthood, Chiron has transitioned into a hardened product of the urban streets.
“Moonlight” is emotionally gripping. It’s obvious from the get-go, that the character of Chiron is born into a climate that promotes a life of crime, and a probable youthful demise. But the character is handled so tenderly, and the trio of young actors that play Chiron so perfectly cast, that you root for him to rise above his dire circumstances, the entire way. Barry Jenkins gives you a complete sense of Chiron’s glaring plight, and the controversial implications of his sexual awakening. So good during its best moments, I find myself forgiving it for its subpar portions. “Moonlight” has already racked up a number of awards, and I would expect more before the season is over. Better written female roles is all I ask for.