Back Rowe Reviews
Real Time Movie Reviews from the Back Row of a Theater

Moonlight (R)

Directed by: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Mahershala Ali
November 2016

What follows is the full-length review based on comments that were originally tweeted in Real-time from the back row of a movie theater @BackRoweReviews. Though efforts were made to tease rather than ruin this movie’s memorable lines and moments, some spoilers may exist in the following evaluation. For concerns over objectionable content, please first refer to one of the many parental movie guide websites. Ratings are based on a four star system. Happy reading!

Told in a Boyhood (2014) style, multi-decade storyline, Moonlight follows nine-year-old Chiron (Alex Hibbert) through his tumultuous teenage years (Ashton Sanders) and into his early adulthood (Trevante Rhodes). Chiron’s life is shaped by his home environment growing up; his mother Paula (Naomie Harris) is strung out on drugs most of the time and his self-appointed mentor Juan (Mahershala Ali) is a drug dealer who, ironically, sells drugs to his mother. Since drugs have been such a big part of his life, Chiron chooses the only thing he’s ever known as an occupation: as a successful drug dealer, Chiron becomes the same kind of soulless monster that kept his mother sick and broke. Gender confusion plagues Chiron during his formative years but he eventually discovers that he’s gay, something others have known all along and have teased him about since he was a kid. Chiron tries to hook up with Kevin (Andre Holland), a friend he had created a memory with on a beach (under the moonlight) one night when they were teens. Kevin, who was recently released from jail, has a wife and kid and is happier than he’s ever been. So why would Kevin risk that hard-fought happiness on a one-night stand with Chiron? He wouldn’t. Yet, that’s how the movie ends…on a completely farcical note. Faulty motivations and gaps in logic like these adversely affect the film; an indie pic that, despite delivering a compelling character study, is a drab, glum and relentlessly bleak vision of growing up in our nation’s inner cities. The movie’s performances are excellent throughout, especially Harris and Ali. Harris’ portrayal of a mother addicted to sex and drugs is deeply disturbing but also startlingly realistic. Even though director Barry Jenkins makes the most of limited locations—shot in and around Miami, FL—the movie still ends up looking low budget. Moonlight’s unflinching examination of the exigencies of life in one impoverished region of the U.S. makes for a searingly poignant tale, if not an enjoyable entertainment. Authentic characterizations and graphic, gritty story notwithstanding, it’s hard to see how this film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar with other more deserving films, like Sully and Allied, waiting in the wings. Coming off a polarizing election season and last year’s racially charged Oscar’s ceremony, Moonlight’s inclusion among the elite films for 2016 seems like a makeup call. After all, the Academy is nothing if not political.