Film #281: Moonlight (2016)

director: Barry Jenkins
language: English
length: 111 minutes
watched on: 11 April 2017

I spoke a bit of the perils of hype last year when I reviewed Deadpool. I first heard about Moonlight at least half a year ago, when people were talking about it online. As it’s a film about a gay black man in America, I never thought it’d even be released in Japan – it only became apparent that it would even get a release here when it became a front-runner for the Oscars, and it even had its release date moved forward a few weeks to the end of March when it was announced as the winner. Sure enough, it didn’t play well here, and it’s already finished its run at my local cinema. (Not to pit them against each other, but La La Land is playing much better here.)

So I had this movie hyped to me for such a long time, and I should have just streamed it ages ago. It turns out I’ve already seen a lot of the pivotal moments of the film in Tumblr gifsets without spoiler warnings.

It’s undoubtedly a beautiful film, especially in its use of colour, and it’s definitely groundbreaking for being the first LGBT film to win Best Picture at the Oscars – and one of very few with an almost 100% black cast.

But the subject matter is definitely depressing – it deals with all kinds of issues including drugs and other trappings of life for young black people growing up in such housing estates in Miami. Its main character is very repressed over the story, especially about his sexuality.

The film is split into three acts, the three stages of the main character Chiron’s life, as his identity shifts in various ways and he comes of age – starting with him in elementary school, then in high school, then as an adult revisiting his past.

The three acts actually feel more like shorts, since the actors playing the main characters change each time. I also expected Mahershala Ali, who plays the boy’s mentor in the first act, to continue into the next act, but he disappears from the story. In the end, the only actor who is in all three parts is the boy’s mother, Naomie Harris, who’s addicted to drugs, causing one of the film’s central conflicts.

So basically, I wanted more. I also found the main character, in all three incarnations, to be a man of few words, frustratingly so. Other characters do the talking for him, and he often just stands there looking torn and hurt – and his actors all do this effectively, but I wanted to hear more of his story rather than just have it all implied. But no wonder he’s repressed, given the circumstances. You can take this part either way – I can see that it might be poignant for someone else watching this, perhaps with that lived experience. For me the repressed sexuality and possible coming-out seemed trite compared to other gay-themed movies.

That said, I’m definitely glad I got to see the movie, especially to see it on the big screen. I think it was crafted very well, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the director can do in the future. I have a feeling he’s going to have a fruitful career ahead of him.

How about you, what do you think?

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