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‘Moonlight’ (review)

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Produced by Adele Romanski,
Dede Gardner,
Jeremy Kleiner
Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Written and Directed by Barry Jenkins
Starring Trevante Rhodes, André Holland,
Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome,
Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Alex Hibbert

Moonlight is a great film.  Actually, it’s more than that, it’s important, beautiful, refreshing and real.  It is transcendent filmmaking.

I apologize for the hyperbole in advance, but believe this hype.  There will be more to come as it plays more festivals, opens theatrically and ultimately/probably scores some awards.

Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, inspired by a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, this Miami-set drama is a coming of age film set during three distinct moments in the life of its subject Chiron.

As a boy, as a teen and as an adult, Chiron is flawlessly cast by three fantastic actors (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes), who make the sprawling narrative so successful.

On a similar track, the director has assembled three actors (André Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Jaden Piner) to portray Kevin, who we learn to be a major presence in Chiron’s life.

Jenkins divides the film also into three chapter headers, taken from different identities Chiron is either labeled as by others.  Or is it perhaps that he’s somewhat adapted for these labels for himself, unsure of who he is or what he can become. It doesn’t take long to realize Chiron is one of the saddest, most heartbreaking leading characters you’ve ever followed on film.

Bringing to mind the free-flow visual emotion of several Terrence Malick movies, Moonlight‘s fly-on-the-wall intimacy is engulfing.

Over neon-lit interiors and blazing sun-lit exteriors, we journey alongside Chiron’s coming of age—poor, Black, and gay.  But throughout the tale, there’s an internal struggle going on.  Chiron chooses silence and constraint, for most of his pre-adult life, so it’s all the more fascinating to experience the resulting third act.

The film’s supporting cast includes Mahershala Ali as an early role model/father figure, albeit neighborhood drug lord.  Janelle Monáe makes her feature acting debut as the equally compassionate girlfriend to Ali’s character.  But the rawest emotional counterpoint comes from Naomie Harris as Chiron’s single-mom.

And then there’s the unbilled character on screen throughout the entire story—love.  Love unfulfilled, love earned, love redeemed, love misunderstood, love rekindled.  Ultimately, we learn, this is a love story.  Unlike so many romance movies that have come before, yet refreshingly familiar enough to rank among the best of past.

 

Moonlight plays at the 54th New York Film Festival on Sunday, October 2nd and Monday, October 3rd.
Tickets are currently stand-by only. Click here for showtimes, tickets and more information.
The film is scheduled to be released nationwide on October 21, 2016, by A24.

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