Set in three distinct acts, Barry Jenkins’ Golden Globe winning film is about the life of Chiron (played by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes respectively in each act) as he tries to come to terms with his identity, bullied for developing homosexual tendencies and having to live with a negligent, drug-using mother (Naomie Harris) but finding comfort in friendships with local dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) and close friend Kevin.
As a much talked about 2016 film, looking set for quite a few Academy Award nominations, I was satisfied when this was shown at Odeon’s Screen Unseen and, much like La La Land, was incredibly anxious to see this much talked about film, wanting to see what all the fuss was about. Unfortunately (and very surprisingly), I was left incredibly disappointed by the end of Moonlight.
But why? Where did it all go wrong?
The simple reason is that Moonlight is regrettably quite boring. Granted, the first two acts are pretty good, with the climax of the beach scene and the part with the chair being scenes of particular note, but the script and story are pretty basic, nothing particularly compelling happens and the character dialogue is often really dull and had me zoning out a great deal of the time, even at the start of the beach scene! Of course, a film can essentially be about nothing and still be amazing (see Manchester by the Sea) but Moonlight is far too restrained, constantly holding back and never really delivering any memorable moments or fascinating character development. Also, the main character of Chiron is fundamentally uninteresting, having no particular character traits or personality that would make an audience particularly care about what happens to him.
Ultimately, I kept waiting to be reeled in to the story but by the end, it was an overwhelming case of “so what?”
With such potential for fascinating subject matter, namely struggling to come to terms with your identity as a homosexual adolescent, it is all handled here with kid gloves, never provocative, shocking or daring. It explores these issues all too lightly, constantly treading water and ultimately, the film just doesn’t make enough of an impact, playing it safe and having absolutely nothing original or interesting to say.
The third chapter lets the film down greatly as it all becomes unbearably morose, joyless and whiney, with lifeless, droning conversation between Chiron and Kevin, accompanied by overlong, lingering shots of their mopey faces. Also, the character of Chiron in the third act is such a radical departure from those found in the first two that the film lost a fair amount of believability and led to the film being quite disjointed, although the issue of Chiron’s new appearance is indeed adressed by Kevin.
There are a few good performances to be found though, Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monae being the best of the bunch. Deservedly earning an award nomination, Ali is a huge boon to the film as he is charismatic, talented and his character is clearly the most interesting of them all. So it’s a colossal shame then that after the first act, he disappears and the rest of the film essentially suffers for it, missing Ali’s presence terribly. And also, after (or before, technically!) her incredible performance in Hidden Figures, Janelle Monae is wonderful to watch here as a maternal figure to Chiron and like Ali, she is charismatic, engaging and a considerable merit to the film, her presence being missed in the third act. Elsewhere, Naomie Harris is great as Chiron’s drug using mother, though her character of the abusive, drug addled parent is pretty standard for a story like this, and all the actors who play Chiron perform quite well.
Jenkins directs well, often having characters face directly towards the audience, letting us see all the emotion that they have to offer and Nicholas Britell’s score is also quite good; the string heavy accompaniment is melancholic and gives the film a distinct operatic quality.