Happy Ending | Moonlight Review
“In the moonlight, black boys look blue.”
The second feature film of Barry Jenkins achieved more than anything he could have ever imagined. Moonlight (2016) is a story told in three clearly-defined parts, each telling a significant moment in the life of Chiron; a poor, black, gay man. Needless to say, this character, like the film he inhabits, is an underdog. Fortunately, Jenkins takes the spotlight off differences in class, race and sexuality, in order to prevent it coming across as your typical white-guilt Oscar-bait, instead presenting a very human story, which perfectly utilises the medium of film. And yet, despite being up against a film about Hollywood for Hollywood, it was Jenkins who went home with the Oscar for Best Picture.
Moonlight tells the kind of story I love to see. The writing is so tight that three stages of the protagonist’s life flow just as smoothly as if it were one major event with a beginning, middle, and end. So simple and yet so elegant. The first act establishes the world that our hero, ‘Little’ (Alex Hibbert), lives in. He is a David, surrounded by Goliaths, almost everyone treats him badly because they’re big and he’s little. Fortunately, he finds some shelter in the home of ‘Blue’ (Mahershala Ali) and his wife, Teresa (Janelle Monàe). Blue takes him home, only to find his mother (Naomie Harris) is not a particularly compassionate person. Now that our characters have been introduced, we fast forward to our protagonists teenage years. Despite now going by Chiron (Ashton Sanders), he is still relatively little, which is even more daunting in the hyper masculine world of high school. Eventually we see an older, nearly unrecognisable, Chiron, now going by ‘Black’ (Trevante Rhodes), returning home after a long absence, and trying to patch things up with those he left behind.
Jenkins does a fantastic job exploring masculinity, with the focus on survival in a survival-of-the-fittest environment of the lower socioeconomic areas of London. This tied into the beautiful imagery, which utilises colours to emphasise the themes, particularly the colour blue, which encapsulates the tone well while also conveying the presence of Mahershala Ali’s character in key events in Chiron’s life.
Speaking of whom, Ali earned best supporting actor for this role, and deservedly so. Every moment he is on screen he steals the scene, even in a particularly amped-up scene against Naomie Harris, he is so compelling to watch and has an unparalleled charm. Naomie Harris herself is chilling to watch in this film. She perfectly portrays the unstable mother role, and there is not a scene where she does not try her hardest. Other actors such as Janelle Monàe and all three actors who play Chiron’s childhood friend, have little time to shine, although there is promise of future potential in each. The three actors who play Chiron at different ages are great actors Trevante Rhodes gives a subdued performance as the hardened older Chiron, with all the mannerisms of the previous two actors. Ashton Sanders encapsulates the visceral vulnerability of a teenager. Even young Alex Hibbert gives one of the most natural performances from a child actor I’ve seen.
Most importantly these three actors convey that this is not just one kids journey to adulthood, this could be anyone’s story. Moonlight shows us a glimpse into an extraordinary ordinary life, and it does it with a flourish.