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 it being seen as a documentary? It may have been the intention of director Barry Jenkins. In “Moonlight” he gives a glimpse into a few important life events of Chiron, an extremely realistic look at how a boy can develop into a man. Can Jenkins deliver a coherent story outside of this cinematic show box?
The comparison with “Boyhood” is easily made with “Moonlight”. There, too, we follow a boy on his way to adulthood without manifesting an all-encompassing plot. 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 set-up, but Jenkins decides to dwell a little longer on each event and thereby skip quite a lot of important developments. The aspect of “growing up” is then left out, and that’s exactly what made “Boyhood” so charming.
Because of this, “Moonlight” feels especially very patchy. Almost as if the viewer is watching three completely separate stories with the same characters coincidentally always passing by. The three different acts are basically a reasonably logical successive story, but when it turns out that a number of important events have taken place in the time between the stories (which the viewer does not yet notice), it becomes clear that there are quite a few missed opportunities. and the script of ‘Moonlight’ is certainly not the strongest.
The great attraction of the film is the aforementioned realism and the great acting that the actors manage to put down. Mahershala Ali, who takes on the mentor character Juan, and Naomie Harris, as Chrion’s crack-addicted mother, especially steal the show. Although Ashton Sanders (teen Chiron) and Jharrel Jerome (teen Kevin) should certainly not remain unmentioned. The screen time these actors share is very limited (as opposed to the time the characters go through each other) but the chemistry they bring about makes for the most human scene in the film. One scene in particular includes that realism the very best, to the point where it actually becomes too uncomfortable for the viewer to keep watching. Not necessarily because it is so intense, but it is such an honest and real moment that one can get the feeling that they are not allowed to be present.
It is a recurring theme, because that sense of authenticity is also present in the inspiring life lessons of Juan and the confrontations between little Chiron (Alex R. Hibbert) and his mother. Where, however, these are mainly confrontations and private moments, the film collapses a bit when a somewhat more “normal” conversation has to be conducted. This becomes especially clear in the last act of the film where we follow an adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) who tries to give his past a place. Jenkins decides to spend a third of the film on this, which might 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 hit. Unfortunately, the extremely weak narrative structure makes “Moonlight” too fragmentary to be seen as a convincing masterpiece.