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Oct 17 2016

"Moonlight"in Three Acts

Since Barry Jenkins' new filmMoonlightis told in triptych style,we've opted to bring you our NYFF review in the same way with three of us writing it!- Editor

"Little"by Murtada Elfadl
Moonlightis a patient movie that takes its time to give us a full portrait of what goes on in a young man's mind.Long beautifully rendered scenes provide us pivotal snippets of days in a life.The economy of the scenes mixed with the patience in storytelling means that every gesture and word counts.Barry Jenkins takes Tarell McCraney's unproduced play "In Moonlight Black Boys Boys Look Blue"and paints it on screen,using his actors' faces and bodies to deliver singular poetic images.

The languid melancholic tone fits the inner monologue of the main character Chiron (who is called "Little"in this first of three segments),who is struggling to understand himself...

He's played as a 9 year old by the extraordinarily introspective yet expressive Alex Hibbert.In the first part we see him isolated and terrorized at school,with his mother Paula (Naomie Harris),playing with his only friend Kevin (Jaden Piner) and meeting mentor Juan (Mahershala Ali) who will loom large in his life.

Harris is ferocious and revelatory,making clear from the beginning that the love Paula has for her son is mixed with cruelty,as if she thinks he deserves the bullying he gets for being gay.That cruelty is opposition to the tenderness Ali as Juan provides,and what gay boy hasn't felt both as people around them start to become aware of their sexuality,sometimes before they do.This is where Little's story stuns,every interaction comes with a jolt of recognition.

"Chiron"by Manuel Betancourt
If the film's first third mingles wily innocence with the hardened edge of Miami's Liberty City,its middle section bristles with adolescent aggression.No longer "little,"Chiron is now a lanky,introverted young man (Ashton Sanders) whose eyes continue to scan the rooms he's forced to inhabit,aware that he's perpetually trapped within them: boys at school taunt him,his mother continues to lash out at their shared home,and that last safe haven of his,Juan's apartment,is now devoid of his comforting presence.

Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) returns yet again as a character who seems to provide Chiron a clearer vision of himself.
The shared intimacy they had as children is reestablished in one of the movie's sexiest moments: a groping and grasping hand on the sand bathed appropriately in beautiful moonlight is a perfect example of Jenkins' mastery when it comes to marrying visual poetry with a bruising physicality.And it's that very physicality which comes crashing down with full force in the section's climactic moment.Chiron's relationship with the bullying,violent young men around him explodes with righteous rage,an achingly painful tour de force that atomizes Chiron and film alike,a splintering moment of self-destruction that's as hard to watch as it is to recover from.

"Black"by Nathaniel R
If the second act ends by bringing the house down — you'll excuse the stage metaphor sinceMoonlightwas inspired by a play — the third wisely doesn't attempt to top it or rebuild.When we return to Chiron,now an adult,the film is newly subdued -- world weary you might say.Chiron now answers to "Black,"a nickname he had resisted in earlier installments.At first glance this grown man,now a hulking intimidatingly muscular silent giant,is unrecognizable from the boy we had developed such intimacy with.But appearances can be deceiving as they're more nurture than nature.

Moonlight's grand and unusually well-executed theme is identity.And as in real life  "coming of age"is far more complicated and less inevitable than the phrase implies.You don't get there by merely enduring each new turn of the clock;you have to engage with your true self.The terrific actor Trevante Rhodes who plays Chiron as an adult looks nothing like his predecessors but somehow alchemizes their souls.In the early scenes he's something like a purposefully less charismatic imitation of Juan but when he visits his mother (Naomie Harris is the only actor to appear in all three parts) or reunites with Kevin (now played by André Holland) Rhodes magically conjures up the introverted boy and the angry teenager.His earlier selves don't change his tough exterior but they're suddenly visible just under the skin.Here is a man who has never quite become himself but is hardly a chameleon who can become someone else.That's the nature he's been repressing but finally meeting again in this brilliant movie's heartbreakingly quiet finale.

Moonlightopens on October 21st in select cities.Consider it unmissable.

Oscar Chances: Yes.In all categories but particularlySupporting Actress(Naomie Harris),Supporting Actor(Mahersha Ali),andBest Picturethough it might be an uphill climb for many of them as it's closer to an art film than a typical Oscar play.

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Reader Comments (23)

No easy answers or truths in this gem of a movie about survival and life in contemporary black America.Can't wait to watch it again.

With A24 and Plan B on the case,no strangers to Oscar and Globe nominations and critics accolades,I'm encouraged.When was the last time three (or four) actors from the same film were nominated for BSA?Oh,The Godfather Part II(and never more than three)...

October 17,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Didn't read the review.I don't want anything spoiled for me further than I can assume.

October 17,2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Watched this one in a special screening last week.I thought it was good.
The only brilliant thing about this movie was its trailer: all the best shots were there,with haunting,dramatic violins hightening what we see to create an atmosphere of importance or transcendence.
Then we have the movie itself.Let's forget it was a great trailer.Let's pretend it's not the first movie to be embraced as a serious,important gay/black movie.Let's take the movie for what it is.Better yet,let's look at its screenplay.Why are we supposed to simply believe the characters' motivations,especially the father-figure at the beginning,who is written only as a savior since we are never shown his flawed persona?The characters were written very one-dimensionally,their actions motivated by unrealistic pretenses.The mother was an addict,the boy was a victim,the bully was a bully.We never ever see two (or three) sides of each character.
As it's written,that relationships and interactions between the characters just seem to exist to service the story and not as a natural or logical way they would be acting.
Why is this movie being lauded as an original piece of filmmaking when I seem to have seen this story before in different movies?The exaggerated innocence and purity of the lead in Blackbird,the parallel child/adult story,abusive mother,no father figure in Elliot Loves,the subtle coming-of-age element of films such as Pariah and many others.There is nothing really impactful or original about Moonlight that would warrant such universal acclaim,but I guess in a time when people seem to respond to everything with such urgency and hyperbolic reactions,then yes,this movie is a MASTERPIECE for the ages!

October 17,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

Steven,I can only assume you're white.

October 17,2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful


October 17,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

Nope.Not white.That is a racist assumption from your part.

October 17,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

@ Steven

"Racist"isn't the right word to describe the attitude you are ascribing to /3rtful.Definitely not.

October 18,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Is Harris a classic Monster Mum.

October 18,2016 | Unregistered CommenterMARKGORDON

I'm tearing up reading the review,it hits so close to home...

October 18,2016 | Unregistered CommenterBlueMoon02


If you mean like Mo'Nique (Precious),Lansbury (The Manchurian Candidate) or Laurie (Carrie)?


October 18,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Can we stop with the notion that people can only love particular works of art if they are black or white or brown or yellow or red or whatever?I am a white gay boy and I have loved several movies that were about straight people of various colors.And I have hated several movies about white gay boys.

Art does not exist solely to reflect us toourselves but also show us what it means to be human and last time i checked being human transcended skin color.

October 18,2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

@ Nathaniel

That is so true.Beautifully said.

I will give it to the film that it seemed to attempt to transcend its "target audience".I don't even remember there being a kiss.Was that subtlety an artistic choice or was it motivated by its need to be broadly embraced by non-gay,non-black audiences?

October 18,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

I don't even remember there being a kiss.Was that subtlety an artistic choice or was it motivated by its need to be broadly embraced by non-gay,non-black audiences?

Likely motivated to keep the AFAWK heterosexual cast comfortable with the "brave"material.

October 18,2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

But there was a kiss...

October 18,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

How soon can we get Trevante Rhodes featured in the beauty break segment?I just googled him and DAMN!

I am looking forward to Moonlight.This,La La Land and Manchester by the Sea are the movies that have me most excited so far!

October 18,2016 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

And the kiss wasi a pivotal moment at that.How could you have missed that?

(WTH would be the "target audience"for this film?)

October 18,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Obviously the target audience for any movie with gay characters at their center is a gay audience.There is a whole subgenre out there.
Then,if there are violins/classical music,good cinematography,meaningful silences and some tragic characters,it broadens to arthouse folks (which is the case)
If they die at the end or if there is an unhappy ending,then it can be more mainstream.
I guess those conversations happen either vocally between the producers and filmmakers involved or in maybe their heads.
I swear I don't remember said kiss.I saw it a week ago...
Again,I didn't dislike it,but reading the universal acclaim just makes me feel very alone and a little insane.:)

October 18,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

@ Steven

I guess I have a hard time taking your opinion of the film seriously if you can't remember that kiss.With a film as intimate in scale as this,it makes me think you weren't paying attention...

As far as a target audience goes,Moonlightis neither a typically "gay film"nor a typically "black film"(one of the reasons it very much appealed to me).There is much in the movie that would turn off mainstream audience members from either of those constituencies.Which leaves you with the arthouse crowd—yeah,it's certainly an art film.But that's pretty vague as a genre.

Your issues as outlined in your first post seem to be critiquing a different type of film,and not the one Jenkins made.(Juan is clearly flawed,for example: he's a drug dealer,after all,and Chiron's mom calls him out on that.I didn't need it spelled out any further.) I would suggest a re-watch,and maybe you'll feel less alone and insane.You'll also get to (re-)experience the moment with the kiss,which I won't spoil by saying which section it occurs in.;-)

October 18,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

@ Paul
It's ok if you can't take my opinion seriously.I'm not trying to convince anyone to agree with my opinion and I'm also satisfied with my impressions about the movie,which I have no particular desire to rewatch.
Upon thinking about the two times when the kiss could have happened,I kind of remember it now,which illustrates my own personal issue with it.I think I was distracted by another element in the filmmaking or acting while that was happening and it didn't leave an impression at the time.
Just because the character was referred by his mom as a drug dealer,that still doesn't give the actor the opportunity to show that side of his.As he is written and all the scenes he is allowed to play,there is just a savior archetype.We never even see any facial expressions from him that would suggest he is a dangerous or tortured man.He enters the story as a plot device and stays that way,in my view.

I'm glad people are connecting with it and it's making them feel moved,but I just couldn't personally get past how much it was trying to do just that to me.

October 18,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

As he[Juan]is written and all the scenes he is allowed to play,there is just a savior archetype.We never even see any facial expressions from him that would suggest he is a dangerous or tortured man.

Because he is not playing a thug stereotype?Or a tortured anti-hero trope?One of the best things about the role and Ali's performance is that he's not serving any of that.And I found plenty of danger (if not menace) in his physical presence.

Not trying to change your mind,Steven,but when you ask "Why is this movie being lauded as an original piece of filmmaking..."in the review comments while listing the faults you found with it (plus that kiss thing),you gotta expect a rebuttal from someone else who's seen it.

October 18,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I feel Moonlight isn't a ordinary black gay film bit it is one just one that hits deeper than any other but for one thing it isn't exactly original and some films are inspired by older ones no problem with that.It really has no plot,and Juan isn't conceived as a bad guy in this movie he just has one big scary label for a non scary man he's a drug dealer and Chiron's mother a crack addict which seems to me as a black person a bit stereotypical why not show gay black mean who don't struggle with their identity (goes for straight as well) and know that they don't have to fight or become an NBA player or a drug dealer to be something be but be successful and wealthy and not have a hard life but be willing to help those who do.Moonlight is a C+ its a mediocre LGBTQ film with great acting thats all P.S.the script and some areas is a whole lot better then the movie.

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