There are a lot of films released nowadays that are victims of far too much hype. I remember in the past year alone, Deadpool and Finding Dory were two perfectly adequate films that I liked. However, going in, I had been told that these were “the greatest films ever!” and “movies you’re never going to forget!” With those heightened expectations, I went in and was disappointed when I found each to only be “okay…”
Moonlight has been similarly hyped. Though often times it occurs with blockbusters, Oscar movies can fall victim to this syndrome as well. (Spotlight and The Revenant were two from last year, in my own personal opinion.) Given all of the awards and a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, I was somewhat nervous going into Moonlight. But don’t be fooled, this ISN’T one of those cases.
Moonlight is an emotional, well-crafted, important film for this year.
The film follows Chiron, a young boy growing up in Miami who is struggling with the toughness of his neighborhood, drama with his mother, and his own confusing sexuality. As the film opens, it could have easily trickled into paint-by-numbers territory. However, the powerful performances right out the gate from supporting player Mahershala Ali and Alex Hibbert (little Chiron) bring a real feeling of empathy and reality to the situation. That reality runs throughout the entire film.
Typically, I’m not a fan of ‘slice of life’ type of movies with no set beginning or end. However, Moonlight plays like a coming of age movie with a real set purpose. The script was written in a way that took real life and made it feel intriguing, dramatic, and elevated for the big screen. Yet, that elevation also never felt cheap.
The film is a celebration of raw human emotion and what it means to become an adult. It also presents very bold ideas about having a larger place in the world and what people think of you. Contrasting the big with the small is an impressive feat that this movie achieved with aces.
Not to mention, the camerawork is impeccable. Director Barry Jenkins had only helmed one film before this, but you would imagine him to be a seasoned veteran of the craft. Jenkins holds the camera in a steady position while a camera takes Chiron’s exasperated mug shot. The trick of simultaneous steadiness and shakiness reflect the failing attempts to make it through the imperfect world in which we inhabit, while carrying out the less-than-sturdy lives that we live. The color palette, meanwhile, marvelously contrasts dark and dingy settings with bright and vibrant ones in a beautiful stimulation of the senses.
Moonlight uses each of its components to its advantage. A team of gifted actors who are highlighted by a competent director are great together. The script, though occasionally seeming to wander towards cliché territory, keeps itself real and grounded. The film, as I appreciate it, is not about battling racism in America or even what it means to be an American man. Rather, Moonlight shows the uneasiness of life and how to cope with that. Its ideas are important, thought-provoking, and (though somewhat TOO open-ended) effective.
Moonlight certainly deserves all of the nominations and accolades it has been receiving and Moonlight certainly beats the hype.