By Bob Bloom
“Moonlight” intimately shares a young black man’s journey of self-discovery from childhood to adulthood as he tries to understand his place in the world and his sexuality.
The movie, adapted and directed by Barry Jenkins, is told in three parts, as we follow the life in Miami of a young boy nicknamed Little (Alex Hibbert), who morphs into the teenage Chiron (Ashton Sanders), who then matures into the adult Black (Trevante Rhodes).
From the outset, we see the quiet and shy Little bullied. He can find no refuge at home, where his crack-addicted mother, Paula (Naomi Harris), verbally abuses him as well.
His only refuge is with a kindly drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali), and his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monáe), who show Little a ray of kindness he has never known.
Little’s one friend is Kevin, who urges him to stand up and fight back, advice the child ignores.
The teenage Chiron fares no better, being constantly picked on in high school.
Chiron meets up again with Kevin, where the pair share — for Chiron at least — a life-changing experience.
A later betrayal creates an upheaval that alters Chiron’s persona.
Years later, the now adult Black is living in Atlanta, where he is peddling drugs.
An unexpected phone call brings him back to Miami, where his life comes full circle.
Despite its rough exterior, “Moonlight” is a tender picture, a soft and understanding portrait of isolation, of living in the shadows by denying one’s true self.
Compassion overflows in this intimate movie that takes viewers into a world of black men that is rarely shown in film or newspaper articles.
The movie showcases a complexity about human nature and sexuality that is refreshing to watch. We mourn and cry with Little-Chiron-Black during his dark times, and celebrate his moments of joy and survival.
“Moonlight” is a performance-driven feature. The three actors portraying Little-Chiron-Black blend into each other; all are spotlighted more by their silences and reactions than any dialogue.
They are heartbreakingly vulnerable; their pain, though muted, can be felt through the screen.
Ali as the kindly Juan showcases a man of conscience who, despite how he makes his living, has heart and compassion, recognizing how a gesture or friendly word can help change a life.
His portrayal is worthy of a supporting actor Academy Award nomination.
“Moonlight” is a melancholy and moving feature that will tug at your heart and call you to embrace it. It’s an invitation you should definitely accept.
Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.
4 stars out of 4
(R), sexual content, violence, language, drug use