A common theme of the week is seeing trailers to movies that I couldn’t quite make out what the story was, but still incredibly fascinated by what I was looking at. All I knew was that the cool black guy from Netflix’s LUKE CAGE was in it and might be about two friends and… some kid, yeah, I wasn’t following the trailer. But it wasn’t until I read the poster that got me cocking my eyebrows. “This is the story of a lifetime”? Seriously? Tooting horns isn’t as sexy as it sounds, film-makers. So… I don’t know, I wasn’t expecting much, but it was still getting some rave reviews, so it must be doing something right.
So let’s take a look at the cast. The film stars Mahershala Ali (KICKS , the last two Hunger Games movies, and Netflix’s LUKE CAGE). I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I think he’s quickly turning into TV Samuel L. Jackson: being the coolest black guy to grace the performing arts. While he doesn’t really venture into different roles, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if on the set of KICKS, the producers of MOONLIGHT just asked him to stay in character and costume and join them for their movie down the road, but he sure does own the roles that he plays. Too bad he didn’t say an outright “no” to KICKS. But if nothing else, I love this man’s face. It makes me giddy with excitement… as well as petrified with fear. What?! Cottonmouth was scary… I know there’s a bunch of other cast members, but there’s a lot to get through. I’ll try to talk about them in my review.
Now for behind the scenes. Directing and writing is Berry Jenkins, a relative newcomer known more for short films and one feature-length called MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY (2008). Composing the music is Nicholas Britell, known for THE FREE STATE OF JONES (2016), A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS (2016), and THE BIG SHORT (2015). Finally reuniting with Jenkins from MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY is the cinematographer, James Laxton, also known for YOGA HOSERS (2016), TUSK (2014) and CAMP X-RAY (2014).
So yeah, not sure what to expect. Not a lot of big names, in front of, or behind the camera, so… we’ll see what happens. This is my honest opinion of MOONLIGHT.
The story follows Chiron throughout the course of his life from childhood to adulthood. As a child, he had the nickname Little (Alex R. Hibbert). Quiet, and reserved, but a harmless kid from a broken home. His father is long gone and his mother is a drug addict. But Little soon befriends a local drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali), an otherwise kindly man who not only befriends little, but in some ways, becomes a father-figure to him. Likewise, he makes a friend named Kevin (Jaden Piner), who tries to teach him how to stand up to bullies. In his teen years, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is still bullied in school and his mom isn’t helping much. Her addiction’s become so bad that she forces Chiron give her money that he worked for on his own. Thankfully, he’s still friends with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome), but it’s also around this time that Chiron develops feelings for Kevin, whom despite talking big as a ladies man, might share the same feelings. As an adult, Chiron, now living under the nickname Black (Trevante Rhodes), has taken the street life as a dealer, but then one fateful day, gets a random phone call from Kevin (André Holland), as the two haven’t seen each other in ten years and may try to reconnect for old times sake.
This is a fantastic film. Think of it as BOYHOOD (2014), but it’s about a black kid’s life in a far less suburban setting, debatably making it a far more powerful and engaging story.
As we near the final stretch of this year, it’s officially dawned on me. Movies have finally made some of the best stories to represent this subject matter. In 2015, we were given THE DANISH GIRL, about a transgender. My #5 favorite movie of the year. And this year, within the same week, we have been given two amazing films about homosexuals: gays, and lesbians (THE HANDMAIDEN). While, yes, there have been films that go into these subjects much more in depth, I still think it’s incredible that movies like this are being made more frequently and manage to still be their own unique tale. You could argue that this is just blind stupid luck (which it probably is), but let’s hope that this luck becomes a habit and we get more quality stories like this.
I also give a tremendous amount of kudos for the portrayal of Chiron himself. At first, I was thinking to myself that there wasn’t much to the character, considering how little he does and says throughout the film. But the more I thought about him, the more I started to realize that… well, this is what the combination of brilliant directing and acting can do. You may not get all the answers laid out in front of you, but everything about Chiron is spoken through his silence. He’s a quiet and soft-spoken kid because he has too few friends and not enough people in his life to properly show him love, apart from Juan and Teresa (Janelle Monáe). In fact, if you pay close attention, he only ever opens up to those that do. Kevin is his best friend as a kid, so he talks to him about not being a pushover. He opens up to Juan and Teresa when his mom calls him names because they’re the only grown ups who has ever been able to trust. As a teen, sure, he’ll react verbally to the bullies giving him a hard time, but you see his frustration and anger. More importantly, through these events, even more is learned about Chiron and what he’s both capable of and what he’s had to endure, both in school, and hell, at home too. As an adult, yes, he interacts with people, but only because he’s a street thug himself and has, you know, minions to keep in line. That’s not really learning about him, but rather what he became. It’s not until he reunites with Kevin where we, again, see conflict within him. Betrayal, melancholy, friendship, and a whole lot of uncertainty. Hell, you could easily make the argument that Chiron is only ever interesting when he isn’t saying anything because, again, that’s when he saying the most. It doesn’t matter if you’re watching young Hibbert, Sanders, or Rhodes, you don’t see different actors, you see Chiron. This movie needs some serious Oscar noms, or… I’ll bitch about it online.
If there was just one question mark that I had looming over this movie it’d be this: In a lot of movies featuring lesbians, female nudity is almost front and center, as well as the sex scenes. But how many movies featuring gays ever go as far as that? Yes, there’s a scene in this where teen Kevin is giving Chiron a handjob, but… you don’t see anything. In both THE HANDMAIDEN and BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (2013), you see damn near everything. I don’t want to pretend that there isn’t a double standard here, like audiences seeing boobs and vaginas is old-hat, but a penis is too avant-garde, but I do wonder why Jenkins didn’t push the envelope in that respect. Studio interference, personal artistic preference? Of course, you could make the very real argument that story and human emotion is more important than nudity, which this movie does undeniably well, which is why I consider it more of a “question mark” rather than a flaw or even anything remotely close to a criticism. Plus, you could also argue that this is an American film, whereas HANDMAIDEN is Korean and WARMEST COLOR is French, so… yeah, different ideologies about sex than Americans.
Before I close out with my final thoughts, I came across this bit of trivia from IMDb.
“In the scene that Juan is swimming in the sea with Little, Alex R. Hibbert truly did not know how to swim. So, when we watch Juan teaching Little how to swim, we are genuinely watching Mahershala Ali teach Alex R. Hibbert how to swim.”
Guys… I know this won’t be an easy movie to find. It’s an indie film, but it is magnificent and I urge you to give it a chance. A truly amazingly written film that needs to be seen. It truly is the story of a lifetime. I hope it gets a wider release in the near future because I would love to see it again. Some of the best writing, directing, and acting you’ll find this year.
My honest rating for MOONLIGHT: 5/5
Hey guys. Happy early Halloween. Here’s my final recommendations for Halloween-themed/horror movies to watch today and tomorrow.
- THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993 – no duh)
- THE MIST (2007)
- CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012)
- KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES