Writer-director Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight is a film that’s so confident, fully-realized and beautiful, that I don’t even know what to say about it. Others have called it “perfect,” and an “American masterpiece,” and they’re not wrong. To be certain, it easily ranks among the best films of the years. Moonlight is a coming-of-age story that spans an adolescence. We follow Chiron, an impoverished youth growing up in Miami.
As we meet him, he’s 10-years-old and diminutive, so much so that everyone calls him “Little.” But, little is the one thing he’s not allowed to be. His father is absent and his mother is slipping into drug addiction — crack cocaine to be specific. The other boys at school think him weak and soft, something his mother attributes dismissively to his sexuality, something Chiron hasn’t yet come to understand within himself, but which is already being used to shame him. This segments gives way to a portrait of Chiron as a young high school student. We catch up with him and the figures floating in and out of his life though this most pivotal and formative stage. Finally, we check in with Chiron as a man, some 10 years or so removed from school and suddenly prompted to visit a crucial, but estranged figure from his past. Though all of this we follow Chiron, the boy and then the man, always quiet, persistently suffering from forces that can only be ascribed to cruel twists of fate and circumstance.
The time slips by seamlessly in Moonlight, such that it’s only arriving at the final act that makes us take pause and realize how far we’ve journeyed down his path. It’s all so well done that unless you take a beat to think about it, it almost seems easy. In fact, this picture is a triptych (with three different actors taking up the mantle of our young hero) that leans on contextual clues and snippets of dialogue to relate most of the larger story. It demands attention and consideration, and in return delivers and achingly human drama that’s quite outside what we normally see on the screen. For this alone, it would be worth watching, but it’s also a picture that’s masterfully shot and skillfully acted.
If you’re not the type to shy away from a movie that will step well outside your expectations and ask you to follow, see Moonlight and count on narrative that will raise in you as many questions and considerations as it does emotions.