Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight (2016)

written and directed by Barry Jenkins

Rating: 2.5 / 4

In the indie drama Moonlight, writer/director Barry Jenkins takes us on a journey through the life of Chiron Harris, a sensitive boy who grows up poor in Miami’s Liberty City, spends his teenage years bullied by his peers and unloved by his addict mother, and in time becomes an emotionally withdrawn adult. But what’s interesting about the film is how Chiron’s remoteness is directly related to his sexual identity as a black closeted homosexual trying to survive in an aggressive male-dominated world. Indeed, a place where being a “faggot” could very well get you killed.

Moonlight is not as interested in reality as in perhaps a sort of magical realism, with a soundtrack that includes Mozart and Caetano Veloso, stylized cinematography, and long, spinning takes. It’s a conscious decision that at times made me feel disconnected from the story. There are also some narrative choices that don’t ring true, such as the character of Juan (Mahershala Ali), a drug dealer who becomes father figure to Chiron (Alex Hibbert). Jenkins’ attempt to upend stereotypes is commendable. But as played by Ali, Juan seems too nice a guy from the get-go, teaching the kid how to swim and giving him lessons on tolerance. A little nuance, a little danger, would’ve made this unlikely friendship much more memorable.

It is in the final act that Moonlight finds surer footing. Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) has followed in Juan’s footsteps and is now a pusher himself. One day he receives a call from his old friend/one-time teenage fling Kevin (André Holland) – the only person Chiron’s ever loved – and something long repressed stirs inside of him. They meet at the diner where Kevin works as a cook, and the scene that transpires is a beautiful, understated encounter filled with longing and things unsaid. Their final embrace speaks volumes, and for a brief moment Moonlight shimmers.

Carlos I. Cuevas

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