Moonlight is plainly an autobiographical film created from the depths of Barry Jenkins’ mind, soul, and guts. It’s a porthole into the psyche of pain and isolation of a boy on the margins. A story told in three parts at three different points in the life of a gay black kid in 1980s and 90s Miami’s ghettoes is filmic territory rarely, if ever, trod. It’s special in the way “of the moment” movies often are, but it’ll also likely stay in its time. Moreover, the film is tonally poetic and those types of films are often good, but it’s hard for them, nearly impossible, to be great.
Marashala Ali as a gangsta-mentor and Naomi Harris as the boy’s drugged-out mother are poignant and mesmerizing. The three gentlemen that embody the spirit of the central character, Chiron, at different points in his troublesome life, are beyond sufficient. Janelle Monáe appears briefly, though memorably, and she will win acting awards someday.
Nicholas Britell’s classically-inspired score is a little heavy-handed, because that type of music can always be emotionally stirring, no matter the moving pictures in the background. Additionally, the head-on close-up shots are unnerving; though maybe that’s the point. There is a lot there and yet still nothing to hold on to.
Jenkins has a gift and it’ll be exciting to follow is career. That said, Moonlight is a series of standard indie movie stuff that just so happened to hit the right chords culturally for the turn from ’16 to ’17. Ultimately, though, the buildup and praise from the politically correct sphere of movie criticism eclipses the moonlight.