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Dec 08 2016

Janelle Monáe's Breakout 2016

Chrishere with one of our newest favorites - well,new to the movies at least.Janelle Monáe has already been such an effervescent musician and entertainer this decade,crushing it with ferocious moves and slick style.The leap to movies was only inevitable with all that charisma.This year she's made quite the successful transition,landing right in the middle of Oscar season with supporting roles in two contendersMoonlightandHidden Figures.Both films and characters are quite different,showing the star's range and excitingly delivering her breakthrough for two black narratives.

But it's not just happenstance of two great projects in the same season.In short order,Monáe proves to be as much of a natural cinematic talent as she is a musical one.Without any of the stunted skills of her pop contemporaries trying out this acting thing,she's already the kind of screen presence you just want to spend more time with.In short order,Janelle Monáe deserves to be a damn movie star...

InMoonlight,she plays young Chiron's somewhat adoptive mother Teresa in the first two segments,all patience and just-this-side-of-tough love.Uncomplicated but still alive,you can see how much Monáe is listening to her castmates,as much a part of its enrapt ensemble as those that have more central characters.Its certainly not a flashy performance,but she is still captivatingly real.That understated naturalism won't win her the awards love (especially against the more intense work of her costar Naomie Harris),but it shows what a present actor she promises to be.

Her real Best Supporting Actress play is inHidden Figures,already nominated for the Critics' Choice prize.Now whileMoonlightis heightened realism,Figures is mostly a glossy sentimental affair.But here is where Monáe proves to be an intuitive player: in her biggest moment,rather than pulling for easy emotion,she's plainspoken and straight-forward without losing the importance of the moment.She's exactly the breath of fresh air that the film needs with its formulaic structure,modulating a strong balance of humor and subtlety.Figureshas yet to open,but once you see it,it's Monáe that will leave the strongest impression.

Monáe has yet to line up her next film project,perhaps (fingers crossed) with more music to come soon.But in a year with some solid breakthroughs,Janelle Monáe's star shines brightest.

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Reader Comments (18)

I have not seenMoonlightandHidden Figuresyet but already excited to see Janelle Monáe in both of them.

On a related note: I have all her recorded outputs and saw her in concert in 2013 to promote her 'The Electric Lady' album.She's an indefatigable performer and a dynamite onstage (she sang 4 during encore).She belts and croons equally well (I like the croon part more though).Although her voice never truly has a top trill,the exciting way she uses her voice makes her a pleasure to listen.Now I want to see her in films and see if the charisma translates well onscreen.

December 8,2016 | Unregistered CommenterOwl

Janelle Monae,movie star.Has a nice ring to it.

December 8,2016 | Unregistered CommenterMatt St.Clair

Owl - Electric Lady is such a great album,so jealous you got to see her live!

December 8,2016 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

I thought she was striking and memorable in "Moonlight."When she shows up in the film you can take a breath because you know Chiron will be safe for the time being.Monae gives the film a much-needed maternal warmth.

December 8,2016 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

Her head shake in the first chapter ofMoonlightis one of my favorite cinematic moments of this year.

December 8,2016 | Unregistered CommenterChris K

I couldn't agree more.Something felt real unique and special with her appearance in Moonlight.

December 8,2016 | Unregistered CommenterCory Rivard

Part of why Moonlight hits so hard is because even small roles like Monae's felt so fully realized and three dimensional.I'm excited!Future Cher!Get her a Moonstruck asap!

December 8,2016 | Unregistered CommenterRahul

Loved her in Moonlight.Like Raul said she brought a much-needed maternal warmth.Wish we had gotten a little more of her in the movie.

December 8,2016 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

One of my favourite artists of the decade.I've had the pleasure of seeing her live twice.I would've loved to see more of her in Moonlight.Loved that role and loved seeing her.

December 8,2016 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

I haven't seen either performance but just from the trailer of Hidden Figures she exudes movie star charisma!

December 8,2016 | Unregistered Commenterbrooooke

With the recent luv showered on her two movies,metink she has a hi chance o movin up n takin kidman or gerwig's spot.

December 8,2016 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

I think that woman was probably born exuding move star charisma.I remember in 2009,Of Montreal was opening for Grace Jones at the Hollywood Bowl and Janelle come onstage as a guest performer walking a dog.I was already impressed with her,but I knew that night she was really going places.She is really luminous in these two films,lots of potential there.

December 8,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I can't help feeling that the actresses getting blocked out by the Viola Davis Outrageous Fraud are her and Molly Shannon,and that is getting me DOWN!Not just because I love them,but because I really really really want to know how flawless Oscar nominee Janelle Monae would dress

December 8,2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

"Monáe has yet to line up her next film project"

maybe she can get some of the many many roles lupita nyong'o must be turning down...

December 9,2016 | Unregistered Commenterpar

She was great in Moonlight and is one of our best working musicians.So thankful for her success.

December 9,2016 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

I found it curious that her character didn't appear in the third chapter -- it's clear that they still maintain a relationship,and presumably they even have an off-screen conversation and that's how he learns where Kevin's at.I wonder why she doesn't appear then.

December 9,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

@ Steve

Budget,timing etc.?

December 9,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Steve - I thought maybe she was disappointed in him for going down the path he did (obvi she was dating a drug dealer,but I got the sense that she wanted more for Chiron) and maybe it caused a riff in their relationship.Or maybe he purposefully distanced himself.It was disheartening for me because as others have mentioned,she was such a warm,welcome presence in the film,but it wasn't THAT strange to me.

December 9,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

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