Moonlight (2016)

Synopsis: A chronicle of the childhood, adolescence and burgeoning adulthood of a young black man growing up in a rough neighborhood of Miami.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Both of us

Why we chose it: This was another mutual selection of ours as “Moonlight” received some crazy critical buzz and eventually won best picture at the Academy Awards.

Brent’s Review:

The most recent film we watched was “Moonlight”, the story of a gay, black man in a poor Miami neighborhood told over three chapters of his life. I wish to take this film on its own terms, but I feel I must divert slightly before beginning.

I had “La La Land’s” release date circled on my calendar for months before I saw it in theaters. It was one of the best experiences I had in theaters in my relatively short movie-going life. I cried three separate times on the first viewing and once on the second. It’s a beautiful film, but even as we left the theater I never once thought it was the best picture.

I mention all of this because it is hard to talk about “Moonlight” without mentioning “La La Land”, two films whose legacies will always be tied together in one moment of excruciatingly agonizing awkwardness at the 2017 Academy Awards.

“So,” everyone asks. “What about ‘Moonlight?'”

“Moonlight” is the other side of “La La Land’s” coin. It is quiet, somber, and introspective. Little is given to the audience — we have to infer how the characters are changing in their situations.

Barry Jenkins — wisely, I think — plays the film flatly. It really feels like we are watching a young boy become a young man and not that it is leading to one big payoff. The narrative doesn’t have a clear rising action that builds toward a climax. In fact, the first two chapters could play independently of one another for good portions of their run-time. Each chapter plays like its own mini-movie, recalling only the most key points of the previous chapter while telling its own self-contained story and introducing new characters and situations. Isn’t that how life feels, each episode intimately tied to the last, but always feeling new?

“Moonlight’s” protagonist is Chiron. Needless to say, the film is thematically weighty. His mother is a drug addict, he is bullied, and he finds himself with fewer and fewer options to choose from as his life seems determined for him by his environment. He makes a terrible decision for himself at the film’s midway point, but given that it is really the only decision *he* makes throughout the film it made me feel conflicted.

That I would feel conflicted when a character makes their situation worse for themselves is a credit to stellar writing and it is no wonder this film took home the Oscar for best writing. The acting is the most obvious highlight of the film, notably Mahershala Ali who is impeccable as “Juan” — and it is disappointing when he disappears after a short stay on screen. Finally, the film’s cinematography is subtly beautiful and cinematographer James Laxton does a great job of playing with blues and various accent colors.

Does it seem like I haven’t really said much about this film? I apologize. Put simply, this film is rich with content. It’s a beautiful story and it demands to be seen. See “Moonlight”.

Leah’s Review:

There aren’t many movies that get perfect scores from early every critic- but “Moonlight” just happens to be one of them. Long before Oscar season and it’s Best Picture win, I’d heard of “Moonlight”’s critical acclaim. I’d also seen the trailer and was intrigued by what I saw. It’s a daring story that (outside the cinema world) might otherwise go untold: the struggles of growing up black, poor, and gay.

“Moonlight” takes viewers on a journey as we watch the protagonist, Chiron, grow up in a harsh world. We see Chiron as a small boy who gets picked on and bullied at school. He meets Juan who becomes a sort-of mentor to the boy. Juan and girlfriend Teresa provide Chiron with a safe place when his home-life becomes too much. Not only is he harassed school, but his unstable drug-addict mother regularly emotionally abuses Chiron.

In the next chapter of the story, teenage Chiron continues to be bullied at school as he struggles to come to terms with his own sexuality. There’s zero acceptance from his peers of being gay- which we see in both Chiron’s mistreatment and the pressure put on Kevin (a classmate who reciprocates the romantic feelings Chiron has for him) to disown and assault Chiron.

Lastly, we see Chiron as a man who, because of his choices and environment, has an incomplete education and jail time under his belt; and who despite having been tortured by the effects of his mother being a user, sells drugs to make a living. Chiron eventually reunites with Kevin and the two reconcile. The ending is ambiguous as to Chiron’s future, but hints that he is perhaps finally able to accept himself.

To be honest, I was underwhelmed after watching “Moonlight”. Don’t get me wrong- the acting is impeccable, the story is poignant and moving, and it’s a beautiful film as far as cinematography is concerned. But I wasn’t blown away. After reflecting, I’ve realized this is because the story of Chiron (or anyone who shares his experience) will never be my story. There isn’t a single aspect of the film that’s relatable to me as a middle-class, straight, white woman. I didn’t know what to feel because I couldn’t imagine my life being like that. “Moonlight” isn’t easy to grapple with. That’s the point. Stories like Chiron’s are the ones that aren’t told, the ones we don’t want to admit are real- but the ones we need to hear and see. I’m sure there are others who saw this film and took nothing away from it because it wasn’t their experience- those people (including myself) need stories like “Moonlight” to broaden their worldview.

But this movie isn’t for them. It’s for people like Chiron who are underrepresented and pushed aside because their stories don’t fit the mold that society says is the “right” one. For those people, “Moonlight” quietly whispers: I understand. You’re not alone. And that’s a powerful thing for a movie to be able to accomplish.

Up next: We’ll be checking out Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, the 2001 winner for best foreign film and best picture nominee.

Peace out, kids.


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