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What Really Changes In The Moonlight?
Moonlight takes a look at two boyhood friends and the journeys they make into adulthood. In the Liberty City section of Miami, a quiet boy named Chiron (Alex Hibbert) doesn't have many friends, and doesn't seem to care to be a part of the crowd. The only one of his peers who seems to care about him is Kevin (Jaden Piner). Others simply wait until after school to chase him. One of these chases gets the attention of Juan (Mahershala Ali), a local drug dealer who tracks down Chiron in an abandoned building. He takes the boy to the home he shares with his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monae). Since he takes so long to talk, Juan decides to nickname the youngster Little. When Juan finally takes Chiron home, his mother, Paula (Naomie Harris) doesn't hide her worry. She does, however, try to hide her drug addiction from Chiron, as well as her connection to Juan. Juan and Teresa, though, do make themselves available to the young man, though neither saw that development coming.
As a teen, Chiron (Ashton Sanders) still maintains a close relationship with Teresa , but Juan has died. Paula has grown dependent on drugs. Chiron also remains the brunt of the bullying from his classmates. Even though he and Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) remain close, Kevin also feels peer pressure from a classmate named Terrel (Patrick Decile). He tells Kevin to punch Chiron at school until his friend stays on the ground. While Chrion won't tell the school who was responsible, he does exact revenge on Terrel by smashing a chair on him, and all parties involved in both incidents get arrested. Chiron and Kevin do jail time for their parts in the incidents. Years later, Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), who's continues to use the nickname Black that Kevin had given him, lives in Atlanta. Kevin (Andre Holland) lives in Miami, though the two haven't spoken in years. Their lives have taken different directions, but Kevin does offer Chiron an offer to reunite and catch up with one another.
Inspired by the Tarell Alvin McCraney play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, scenarist-director Barry Jenkins creates a compelling and unsettling portrait of two young men dealing with a hostile and destructive environment. Viewers might be surprised at the direction the lives of Chiron and Kevin take, but Jenkins shows how certain moments in the boys' lives left an impression as they moved forward. Jenkins also uses a lot of close-up shots to maximize the emotional impact of his film. Others will feel uncomfortable with the sex talk from both men that exceeds the typical talk on the subject. The dialogue is both sparse and simple, though I found the talk more slice-of-life than profound, much like the look at youth entitled Boyhood. The words Jenlkns uses show how much the characters don't say to one another. In spite of the limited talk, I cared more for the Moonlight characters than I did for the ones in the pretentious The Tree Of Life, which had a similar story arc. I wondered if they would become a part of the destruction, or if they would find a life that would fit their desires.
The ensemble is small. but very effective. The only cast member who appears in all three segments is Harris, who shows how drugs change her. Paula tries to provide for Chiron, but the lure of a fix often grows too strong for her, and often even leaves her son not wanting to be near his mother. Hibbert, Sanders, and Rhodes all show how emotionless Chiron can seem. He has just become used to the abuse, but makes a statement without words the moment he has had enough. Piner, Jerome, and Holland show, as Kevin, one of the few friends Chiron knows, but peer pressure sometimes gets in the way. I also liked Ali as the father figure of sorts for young Chiron, as well as Monae in her first onscreen role as Teresa, who cares for Chiron because she sees few others make the effort to be there for the young man.
Moonlight speaks to personal connections, both in the things people say and the things they don't say. Two young men form a bond that gets tested over the years. The people they meet also play key roles in the way that Chiron and Kevin change from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. Both of them want a place where they can be accepted for themselves. The movie lets viewers decide how much each of them has succeeded toward that end, or if they have at all. Moonlight left me wondering with each moment what would become of these two, and if they would make personal decisions honestly and wisely. The answer, I suppose, is between themselves and the limited illumination of the evening.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Moonlight 3.5 stars. Moon over Miami, shine the light of truth on everyone.