Moonlight, a fall festival breakout, opened on just four screens in Los Angeles and New York over the weekend and immediately began challenging records for an independent film. As I say in my video review above, it is more than worthy of this kind of box office and critical acclaim. An intensely personal film from writer-director Barry Jenkins, Moonlight is a moving and pertinent coming-of-age story of a young African American named Chiron, growing up in a tough South Florida neighborhood while struggling to be true to who he really is inside.
The film — based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s theatrical piece Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, but thoroughly given a unique cinematic treatment by Jenkins — is broken up into three distinct chapters about the life of Chiron, played by three different actors separated by 10 years of time. In the first we meet the quiet boy nicknamed Little (Alex Hibbert), as well as his friend Kevin (Jaden Piner), as Chiron tries to deal with the taunting of bullies. He is befriended by Juan (Mahershala Ali), a local drug dealer who also has a good side, demonstrated by taking Little back to the home he shares with his girlfriend Theresa (Janelle Monae), a young woman with a sweet heart that serves as counterpoint to the difficult life Chiron has with his mother (Naomie Harris), a nurse who is also addicted to crack.
In chapter two, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is now 16 and Juan is out of the picture. But Chiron is still dealing with peer pressure and bullies and also beginning to question his own sexuality — even taking it to another level with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). The film is that rare movie that deals honestly with a gay theme among young black males, but also what the definition of masculinity is, particularly in this case among African Americans.
The third chapter set 10 years later reveals a much different Chiron, now called Black (Trevante Rhoades) — seemingly tough and hardened on the outside but still searching for who he really is internally, with conflicting emotions that come to the surface in a remarkably moving scene between him and old friend Kevin (Andre Holland) when they meet again.
Even though they don’t really look like they could be the same person, the extraordinary three actors who play Chiron make you completely believe we are seeing the evolution of this young man. The casting is genius, and if ever there was a movie that defines what an ensemble is it is this one, with not only three Chirons but also three Kevins, mixed with fine award-worthy work from Ali, Harris and Monae. Even if this is a story that may seem particular to one community, it is ultimately so much more a tale of self-discovery, and universal in its pure and truthful humanity.
Producers are Jeremy Kleiner, Dede Gardner and Adele Romanski. A24 is releasing the film, which will continue to expand over the next few weeks. It’s one to see.
Do you plan to see Moonlight? Let us know what you think.
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