Moonlight is one of the most beautifully depicted coming of age stories I’ve seen to date. Set in a drug fueled area of Miami it follows Chiron, an isolated young boy with an addict mother, from child to adulthood. This is a film full of stereotype squashing contradictions that put a black man’s struggles with his sexual identity at direct odds with the environment he grows up in – the nature/nurture debate is cleverly ingrained in its premise.
The film is split into three distinct sections, a different actor portrays Chiron in each and significant credit must be given to both of the young Chirons (Alex Hibbert and Ashton Sanders) who act with a great deal of endearing sensitivity to bring this quiet soul to life. They manage to skillfully emote with limited words to convey a sense of isolation that’s highly relatable. It’s angsty and heartbreaking at times, particularly in moments of affliction brought about by Chiron’s junkie mother who is portrayed blindingly by a continually transforming Naomi Harris.
Barry Jenkins brings Chiron’s story to life with a memory type quality. It pauses at pivotal moments to examine the sensory aspects of Chiron’s experiences: the sand running through his fingers during his first sexual encounter, the ice on his face as he washes away the remains of an altercation. A unique device that definitely added momentum to the piece. Sadly that momentum fell away a bit in the third act. That’s by no means a criticism of Trevante Rhodes who continues Chiron’s story to a more than worthy conclusion; but the third act, though truthful and sincere, is very understated. To really pack an emotional punch it needs a grittier conclusion.
Moonlight definitely deserves to be seen for its heartfelt memory-like depiction and exquisite ensemble cast. Overall, my head says it’s a great film but my heart didn’t really feel it. I give Moonlight a rating of 4/5.