When selected out of the GBT 5 to review Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, I was afraid I wouldn’t have much to say. All I knew about the movie going in is that it was all black and that I, a white man, may not be able to fairly critique it. In some ways I was right, in the way that this tremendous example of needed representation is not meant to appeal to or comfort me, but largely I was wrong in the way that a fantastic movie is a fantastic movie, and my appreciation for this one is through the roof.
Jenkins’ second outing as director/writer of a feature film chronicles the life of Chiron, a young boy, teen, and man, (Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, Trevante Rhodes, respectively), and his journey of self and sexual discovery. Always bullied and without a good parental figure, Chiron finds sympathy and kinship in the form of Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Teresa (Janelle Monáe), who understand the moral gray areas of life and remain good people despite the circumstances they’ve fallen into. Moonlight is a movie about life, the people we may want to be, and the people we end up becoming, as much as it is about Chiron specifically.
Split into three very clear chapters through the use of title cards, (a motif I love), the movie also distinguishes itself almost into three different subgenres, due in no small part to the cinematography work of James Laxton. The style and colors of this movie are gorgeous, with emphasis on popping pinks and blues that maintain both a constant motif and a way to differentiate between acts. The camerawork ranges from disorienting, yet realistic and never distracting, to smooth and still as Chiron’s identity and place in the world becomes more focused. From the opening tracking shot, which swirls around a dialogue between three people for the entirety of the scene, to the calm embrace of the movie’s final moments, Jenkins’ and Laxton’s work is always masterful, and never without style. As if all of that wasn’t enough, the brilliance of the cinematography is matched by the superb editing, blending together multiple breaks in the 180-rule flawlessly by finding the exact moment to cut the shots.
Moonlight is also a triumph of genre. The three acts encapsulate several slice of life genres, each a bit distinct from the other. The best thing about this is that these genres have traditionally been overrun by white movies, and Moonlight turns that outdated tradition on its head. From white guilt Oscar bait movies that exist to prove that “we’re actually not racist after all,” where the white saviors take in a troubled black kid all while learning something about themselves on the way, like The Blind Side (2009) and Happythankyoumoreplease (2010), to typical high school dramas like The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), Moonlight far surpasses these genre movies as an art form and in worth.
An excellent example of how to actually do a movie spanning a lifetime, Moonlight is a better story than Forrest Gump (1994), and more emotionally resonant than The Place Beyond the Pines (2012). With only a few dull moments in the final act, Moonlight is a timeless movie about life and humanity that should stay relevant as a staple against the white dominated movie industry for years to come.