Moonlight – film review by S. Guttman

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“Moonlight”
is not your typical coming of age film. Although it’s been a week since I saw the movie, scenes continue to flash into my mind and linger.
The story takes place in Miami. Barry Jenkins (director and co-writer), paints a picture that vicariously allows you to experience drug abuse, school violence, sex and sexuality identity. The film is based on the play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, by Tarell Alvin McCranney. I understand the film runs true to the play.

The story opens with a boy called “Little” (Alex Hibbert). As an adolescent (Ashton Sanders) and finally an adult (Trevante Rhodes), each actor does a superb job of portraying an individual who fails to fit within his society’s given models. He is raised by Paula, a single, crack addicted mother played brilliantly by Naomie Harris. Her dealer is Juan (Mahershala Ali), and he takes a liking to Little, begins to care for him like a son. There is a very tender scene where Cuban-born Juan teaches Little how to swim. There’s another great scene in which Juan reminisces about his own childhood and explains to Little the importance of defining himself and not letting others do it for him. Juan, Paula and Little soon recognize the dots that connect them to each other.

School violence becomes another focal point. There’s a troubling sequence of events involving a character named Chiron and long time schoolmate, Kevin, played by Jaden Piner (as a boy), Jharrel Jerome (as an adolescent) and Andre Holland (as an adult). The three segments come together with a positive link between characters and a positive relationship between mother and son. There is a constant undercurrent of violence running through the film but scenes of actual violence are minimal and brief. At the end, you will be pleased to have met Little/Chiron/Black and glad to have had the opportunity to travel with him on his difficult road to adulthood. I believe Moonlight will receive a few Oscar nominations.

(Editor’s note: New York Times, “Is This the Year’s Best Movie?”

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