Moonlight is a rare experience for moviegoers because the structure of the story stands out as original in so many ways. The core of the story is lead character Chiron during three separate decades of his life; as a boy, a teenager, and a young man. Director Barry Jenkins intertwines these three chapters of Chiron’s life in a mesmerizing way that takes the audience on an unforgettable journey that truly is “The Story Of A Lifetime.”
The first chapter focuses on Chiron as a boy with the nickname “Little” (Alex Hibbert) as he is bullied by local boys in the run-down ghetto neighborhood he calls home. Mahershala Ali plays Juan, who finds Little trying to escape the local bullies by hiding in an abandoned house. Juan brings Little to his home and introduces him to his wife Teresa (Janelle Monáe), who are like surrogate parents. Little’s father is nowhere to be found and he fears going home because of his mother’s drug use.
The second chapter hones in on Chiron (Ashton Sanders) making his way through high school and discovering his identity as a homosexual. While Chiron is still dealing with bullies, he tries to discover his identity and find a partner who understands him.
The third and final chapter reveals Trevante Rhodes playing Chiron as a young man nicknamed Black. Black is an aspiring drug dealer trying to make his way through the ranks, selling crack while concealing his sexuality. As Black tries to navigate his life as an adult, he runs into his first crush Kevin (Andre Holland), who has just been released from prison.
The revolving narrative expertly takes the audience on an astounding passage through time but suffers from some minor mechanical and thematic elements. Moreover, while the soundtrack sensationally creates the emotional impact of the film, it is barely used at all. Making a greater use of the music may have heightened the emotional resonance of Chiron’s struggles over the course of the story.
Including a voice-over for Chiron may have revealed his thoughts and feelings about his conflicted journey through his inner emotional self. Lastly, the film could have explored Chiron’s identity as a homosexual by diving deeper into his sexuality and revealing how it created his emotional connection to Kevin.
This being said, these are nut-and-bolt issues that are more for cinephiles and filmmakers than anyone else. The magic of Moonlight is that there isn’t one member of the cast that doesn’t deliver a standout performance that plays against type. The emotional resonance of Chiron making his way through his conflicted life and having to hide who he really is, for the most part, pushes the film over the finish line.
If you are seeking out a movie that is structured in an original way that truly creates an emotional atmosphere unlike anything else this year, this is it.
Directed by: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali
Distributed by: A24
Release Date: October 21, 2016 (United States)
Run Time: 111 minutes
Check out a Moonlight official movie trailer