So musicals came back in style with Moulin… Wait? I’m not doing the La La Land review today? I’m actually doing Moonlight? Boy, some accountants are going to get fired for this cock up. Anyway, that obligatory joke out of the way, the Oscars are usually pretty predictable in that they like a film that is loud with it’s intentions or message. There’s also a bit of formula, which is why you’ve seen about a million biopics in the last few months. But occasionally they do give the award to something completely different and that’s what happened when Moonlight won the Best Picture award. But did it deserve it?
Little (Alex R. Hibbert, First Feature Film) lives in the deprived area of Liberty City, which is in Miami, Florida. As he grows up, he must deal with a mother addicted to drugs, vicious bullies as well as the LGBT feelings he is not sure if he should be open about.
First off, this film is gorgeous. Maybe it is because I’m used to the British films set in impoverished places such as Ken Loach’s library of films or Fish Tank where everything is a dismal shade of grey but I loved the use of colour in this film. It does seem to be a deliberate attempt from director Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) to make the colour pop off screen, rather than the Florida sun making everything better. It shouldn’t work, but the story isn’t really about the environment ruining people so not only does it affect the story, but it also works as a nice contrast. With the absolutely gorgeous weather, though for the record the Florida sun will kill you if you stay in it for longer than two minutes, this place should be paradise but instead it’s full of people who doubt themselves and the ones who don’t tend to be awful people.
Also, because the story follows a young boy as he grows up, the film has earned many comparisons to Boyhood, another classic film that got a lot of love in awards season. It’s an easy one to make and I feel people who enjoyed that film will enjoy this one too, but it’s unfair on both films. Boyhood‘s main aim was to be relatable, a realistic portrayal of a child much like you that played just as much on your nostalgia as it did on great character. Moonlight knows it’s main character will be alien to much of the audience, being a gay black male means you are in a very small minority, yet is still able to drench you in that environment of confusion. That idea of not being confident with who you are is a constant theme throughout and while Boyhood did have a bit of that, it is unfair on both movies to compare them because they portray very different characters and experiences.
On themes, the entire point of the move is to basically discuss masculinity and what it actually is. Throughout the film whether he is known as Chiron (Ashton Sanders, Straight Outta Compton), his teenage self, or Black (Trevante Rhodes, Westworld) when he is an adult, he is unsure of himself because he isn’t sure if he is a man or not. Is he not a proper man because he is gay, or because he is quiet? He doesn’t exactly go round beating everyone up like some people in Liberty City. Even as an adult where he becomes a gang enforcer and does intimidate people, he is still tragically not sure of himself, having a massive road trip to see his first and seemingly only love Kevin. (André Holland, 42). The idea of trying to be a stereotypical man of loving sports, reacting like a dog when you see a pair of breasts and liking to beat people up is a destructive one, so it’s brilliant to see a film completely destruct that.
But this film wouldn’t be anything without it’s brilliant performances. You’ve probably heard about Mahershala Ali’s (House of Cards) performance as Juan, the only mentor figure that Little seems to get. He is such a charming presence, someone who seems to have no self doubt yet only manages to hide it under the surface. He is so good at this that even though he disappears for reasons only hinted about 40 minutes, he leaves a shadow over the rest of the film much like his character. Every performance in the film is very strong but the one that deserves more credit is Naomie Harris (Skyfall) as Chiron’s mother who descends into addiction during the film. It’s an amazing portrayal as she seems completely lost in it during parts of the movie, yet the love between her and her son feels real if on the script, it only seems to be hatred.
Now here is where I try to pick out any flaws of Moonligh – and boy is it tough with this one. I suppose the slow pace will put some off, the film goes long periods without very much happening, but I feel that is where the character work is being done and where the brilliant atmosphere can settle in. These scenes may not seem important on the first watch, but when you give the film a second look you realise how key they are to making the characters seem more like real people. Honestly, trying to pick out flaws is just too hard for me to do.
Moonlight is a modern classic. If it was worse, it could have been dismissed as a Black Boyhood, something many ignorant people have done. But it is far more than that. The main character of Chiron may seem alien to many people because he is in such a small minority, but the skill of the film is making his confusion over his sexuality feel incredibly relatable even if you are completely straight. It’s a truly stunning piece of work which is all is right with the world, will be remembered for years to come.