Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

12 November 2016

Moonlight

Moonlight, the new film by Barry Jenkins, was written by Jenkins himself, but is based on a play by Tarrell Alvin McCraney, and although it is structured like a good play – there are even clear act breaks – Moonlight looks and moves like a film, and a very good one at that. McCraney is known for telling stories about queer black folks, and Moonlight is no exception, following a young boy who everyone understands is "soft".

Mr. Rhodes
Chiron, the character central to the film, lives with his mother, a crack-user in Miami, and develops a relationship with Juan, a much older man who takes care of him occasionally. This is a simple movie about a very complicated young man who doesn't like to talk or doesn't have the words for the things he's thinking. Little Chiron just sits there, too terrified to talk about what he wants.


Moonlight is also unapologetically an art film. Barry Jenkins is primarily looking to Wong Kar-Wai for inspiration. The film uses music, light, movement, structure, and silence like In the Mood for Love more than anything else, and indeed Moonlight's subject matter – forbidden but real love – makes Wong a perfect model.

Mr. Ali
The acting is beautiful. Naomie Harris is superb, particularly in act one, as Little Chiron's mom. And although Chiron himself is played by three different actors, each doing excellent work, Trevante Rhodes, who plays Chiron as an adult, is an absolute standout. His performance is stunning – rich, layered, and almost unbearably heartbreaking. In fact, the film is nicely bookended by superb performances: Mahershala Ali, who plays Chiron's mentor in the first act of the movie, gives a similarly nuanced and complex performance. Both actors are phenomenal.

I loved this movie... but to my mind it is not quite perfect. The whole thing feels a little too relaxed for my taste. It is a film brimming with sexual tension, but the final act of the film is not as scary as I wanted it to be. Throughout, I think the stakes of the movie are a bit too low. A part of the Wong influence, I think, is that Moonlight is loving and generous with its characters. This means that we watch them from the point of view of kind observers, and the movie is allowed to be more painterly, ever-so-slightly distanced. What the film doesn't do so well is allow us into the terror felt by teenage Chiron. We watch him, and we love him, but the speed of Moonlight, its leisurely pace, doesn't let us get really scared for the boy, and so the film (in both acts two and three) is more relaxed than I wanted it to be.


But my gripes are small. This is one of the best movies of 2016. You've probably already seen it, since it came to Orlando three weeks later than it was released most places. (This is a pretend city.) But if you haven't seen it yet, go. You're gonna love it.