Early last month my husband and I went to see “Moonlight”.
As gay men we were interested in the film based on its gay subject matter. However, the film is so much more than a “gay movie”. It is also a coming of age story, a story about addiction, a story about dysfunctional families, and a story about urban poverty. It is also one of the very best movies of 2016.
Almost all films are divided into three acts but “Moonlight” is very clearly split into three distinctive parts. The film tells the story of Chiron an African-American boy living in South Florida. In each act of the film we see Chiron at a different age; boy, teenager and man, and in each act of the film he goes by a different name.
In the first act we know Chiron as “Little” (Alex Hibber) and he is trying to navigate his life with a single and crack addicted mother (Naomi Harris) while struggling with trying to fit in at school. He only really has one friend named Kevin. It is in the first act that Chiron meets a man named Juan (Mahershala Ali) and forms a pseudo-family with Juan and his girlfriend Theresa.
The first act is very powerful and sad.
In the second act we see Chiron (Ashton Sanders) going by his name and struggling with many of the same problems which have only gotten worse. His mother’s drug addiction has gotten noticeably worse and his social issues have gone from not fitting in to being constantly bullied. It is in this act that Chiron has a sexual encounter with Kevin.
Like anybody’s first sexual encounter it is powerful for Chiron but it also becomes a crucial story point that sets off a chain of events that leads to Chiron being sent to juvenile hall.
In the third and final act we find Chiron now going by the name “Black” (Trevante Rhodes). He is an ex-con repeating many of the mistakes that those around him made when he was growing up. In the third act we see his mother, now older and struggling to stay clean, realize how much harder she’s made her son’s life. As “Black” leads his life he gets a phone call out of the blue from Kevin. Although “Black” lives in Atlanta he finds himself back in South Florida.
The ending of the film is dramatic and speaks to the power of love, desire, friendship and memory.
The one common thread through all three acts in terms of the cast is Naomi Harris. As Chiron’s mother, Paula, she gives a powerful performance. The clear three act set up of the movie allows us to see her in three very different stages of her addiction and Harris never falters along the way.
All three of the actors that play Chiron are wonderful and I think an argument could be made for any of them to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. But I think it’s hard for one of three actors playing the same character to standout more than another which is probably why none of them got Golden Globe or SAG nominations. The fact that the three actors playing the main character have cancelled each other out is most likely the reason Mahershala Ali has gotten all the buzz. Ali is very good as Juan and I’m not saying that he doesn’t deserve the attention he’s been getting but I do think the three actors playing Chiron are better.
Make no mistake the movie is dark and not a feel good movie. However, the movie will make you think about how harmful homophobia is, especially in places of low socio-economic status and/or minority neighborhoods. The film also speaks to the long lasting effects of drug addiction. If you are willing to see a movie with dark and powerful subject matter I highly recommend “Moonlight”.
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Here is a description:
Justin Gomez and his sister, Terri, have never been close. Separated by nine years and distant in adulthood, Justin and Terri have little in common, except for the love of her three children. In the days before they embark on a road trip to visit the father that once abandoned them and their now deceased mother, both Terri and Justin are dealing with unexpected changes in their lives. Justin surprisingly realizes he might want more than a series of one night stands after a first date goes unexpectedly well. After a lifetime of being a strong type A personality, Terri is forced to confront the reality of the end of her marriage. As they hit the road, with Terri’s children in tow, they find themselves forced to rely on and confide in each other following a devastating event. Confronted with memories from the past and challenges from the present, Terri and Justin must dig deep and unearth the truth about themselves and their parents in order to build a new family based on their love for each other.