Moonlight

 

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A film that invites its audience to share the life of a youngster growing up in America.

 
Moonlight

Mahershala Ali with Alex Hibbert

 

This memorable drama has a clear-cut and laudable aim, which is to tell its audience exactly what the chances are for a boy growing up in America if he is both black and gay. The tale that expresses this is set in Miami and covers in three distinct sections a time scale of more than a decade. Thus, it is that we meet Chiron first as a young boy, then as a teenager and finally as a young man who may or may not find a way to become his true self.

 

This material existed first as a script by Tarell Alvin McCraney which had the longer title of In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. However, the screenplay actually used embellishes this to the extent that while McCraney is credited with the story the screenplay is stated to be by the film’s director Barry Jenkins whose second feature this is (his first made in 2008 but not released here was entitled Medicine for Melancholy). Perhaps because he is relatively new, Jenkins seems to feel the need to prove himself as a filmmaker - or so I conclude from some tiresome, meaningless camera movement early on and from other occasional instances of overemphasis or stylisation. But the strength of his film - and happily it is very strong indeed - lies in the quality of the acting and in the unforced naturalness of most of the writing and direction.

 

Naomie Harris in Moonlight

Naomie Harris

 

The period covered means that the younger characters, not just Chiron himself but also his schoolmate Kevin who plays a vital role in his development, have to be played by different actors at different ages, but the casting ensures that there are no false notes here. Some figures, such as the Cuban drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) who becomes a father figure to the young Chiron feature only in one section of the tale (Ali plays his sympathetic role admirably bringing to mind long forgotten memories of Juano Hernandez). In contrast, Naomie Harris (the best known name in the cast) has a more extended role as Chiron’s mother who with her drug-taking and men friends is no help to her son in his own troubles. She plays most persuasively.

 

At one point it looks as though the final segment may fall into sentimentality, but luckily it doesn’t. However, whether or not this last section ends on the most appropriate note is, perhaps, an open question. The concluding scenes come to seem a bit evasive yet simultaneously feel over-extended, although it might just be the case that had the film taken longer still but had included more detail it might have gained. Some, I know, do not share my doubts about this which in any case are relative: this is a film of real distinction that cries out to be seen.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Jaden Piner, Shariff Earp, Duan 'Sandy' Sanderson, Alex Hibbert.

 

Dir Barry Jenkins, Pro Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and Adele Romanski, Screenplay Barry Jenkins, from the story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Ph James Laxton, Pro Des Hannah Beachler, Ed Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders, Music Nicholas Britell, Costumes Caroline Eselin-Schaefer.

 

A24/Plan B Entertainment/Pastel Productions-Altitude Film Distribution.
111 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 17 February 2017. Cert. 15.