Review: Moonlight (2016)

Moonlight (2016)

Directed by: Barry Jenkins | 110 minutes | drama | Actors: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Ashton Sanders, Janelle Monáe, Jaden Piner, Edson Jean, Jharrel Jerome, André Holland, Shariff Earp, Patrick Decile, Herveline Moncion, Duan Sanderson, Alex R. Hibbert, Herman ‘Caheei McGloun, Kamal Ani -Bellow, Keomi Givens, Eddie Blanchard, Rudi Goblen, Ashton Sanders

Realism in film can take strange forms. Is there a moment when realism transcends the fictional without being seen as a documentary? It may have been the intention of director Barry Jenkins. In ‘Moonlight’ he gives an insight into some important life events of Chiron, an extremely realistic look at how a boy can develop into a man. However, does Jenkins also manage to deliver a cohesive story outside this cinematic diorama?

The comparison with ‘Boyhood’ is easily made with ‘Moonlight’. There, too, we follow a boy on his way to adulthood without an all-encompassing plot manifesting itself. We see a young man discover and learn all the important things in life, in short we see him grow up before our eyes. ‘Moonlight’ has almost exactly the same setup, but Jenkins decides to dwell a little longer on each event and therefore skip many important developments. The aspect of “growing up” is left out, and that’s exactly what made ‘Boyhood’ so charming.

‘Moonlight’ especially feels very fragmentary because of this. Almost as if the viewer is looking at three completely separate stories with the same characters passing by over and over. The three different acts are basically a fairly logical succession story, but when it turns out that a number of important events have taken place in the time between the stories (of which the viewer does not yet receive anything), it becomes clear that a lot of missed opportunities are present. and the script of ‘Moonlight’ is certainly not the strongest.

The main attraction of the film is the aforementioned realism and the great acting performances that the actors manage to put down. Especially Mahershala Ali, who takes on the mentor character Juan, and Naomie Harris, as Chrion’s crack-addicted mother, steal the show. Although Ashton Sanders (teenage Chiron) and Jharrel Jerome (teenage Kevin) should certainly not go unmentioned. The screen time these actors share is very limited (as opposed to the time the characters spend together) but the chemistry they create makes for the most human scene in the film. One scene in particular encapsulates that realism the very best, to the point where it actually becomes too uncomfortable for the viewer to keep watching. Not necessarily because it’s so intense, but it’s such an honest and real moment that one can get the feeling that they shouldn’t be there.

It is a recurring theme, because that sense of authenticity is also present in Juan’s inspiring life lessons and the confrontations between little Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert) and his mother. However, where these are mainly confrontations and private moments, the film collapses a bit when a more “normal” conversation has to be had. This is especially evident in the final act of the film where we follow an adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) trying to make sense of his past. Jenkins decides to spend a third of the film on this which could perhaps have been better used to highlight some other things.

What remains is a wonderful insight into someone’s life. For many viewers this may be enough, because the film hits where it needs to. But the extremely weak narrative structure unfortunately makes ‘Moonlight’ too fragmentary to be seen as a convincing masterpiece.

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