Director: Barry Jenkins.
Screenplay: Barry Jenkins.
Starring: Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex R. Hibbert, Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, André Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Jaden Piner, Duan Sanderson, Shariff Earp.
“At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you”
Backed by Brad Pitt and his production company Plan B, Moonlight done the festival circuit before becoming a darling with the critics. It has since received 8 Oscar nominations and it’s probably fair to say that it has become the biggest underdog success story of the year. As impressive as these accolades are, though, there’s still an overhanging question… Is it actually any good?
Plot: A story told in three defining chapters on the life of a young man named Chiron. From a young boy, (played by Alex R. Hibbert) he questions who he really is before we follow him through high-school (played by Ashton Sanders) and his relationships with his peers and exploration with connections. We then settle on Chiron as an adult (played by Trevante Rhodes) and him coming to terms with his identity.
I have to admit that I really wasn’t drawn to Moonlight when I first heard about it. It might have been a film that I would’ve eventually given a chance. However, call me a victim of hype if you like, but once the reviews started pouring in and the Oscar nominations were announced, I knew I couldn’t drag my heels any longer and had to give it a look sooner than I intended.
Just so we’re clear from offset here; I got the message of Moonlight. I got what it was trying to say. I was even impressed with its artistic approach and it’s seamless merging of three narratives. It’s a story about connection, sexuality and masculinity. It’s a universal tale about self-discovery. I didn’t misunderstand it. What I don’t understand is the praise that’s been lavished upon it. This is, unequivocally, one of the most overrated films in quite some time.
I’ll give director Barry Jenkins his due, his deliberate approach to the material is impressive as it verges on european art-house. Some of his and cinematographer James Laxton’s eye for a shot can be striking but, in the end, the film meanders and finds it very difficult to steer clear of contrivance. Frankly, the film takes far too long to say anything. Tedium sets in very quickly and by the time the film reaches its final third, it dawns on you that all you’re really getting from this is pretentious twaddle.
It talks a lot, but (like Chiron himself) says very little. It has been said that “humility is no substitute for a good personality” and this is the case with our lead character. He’s very difficult to identify with and any personality he might have must have been kept in his underpants as it certainly wasn’t anywhere to be seen onscreen.
What Ang Lee done for cowboys in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, Barry Jenkins does for drug trapping homies in Moonlight. It sheds its light on the plight of gay men who struggle with their sexuality and identity – especially when living in a masculine environment. It’s an important topic which, rightly, deserves more attention but Lee’s film was overrated then and Jenkins’ film is overrated now. When approaching this particular type of material, I would highly recommend Tom Ford’s sublime A Single Man instead; a film that was genuinely artistic and heartfelt, yet was sorely overlooked by far too many.
8 Oscar nominations? Bitches be trippin’! This is not that kind of caliber and it stinks to me that the academy are trying their best to look politically correct after the lack of black representation in the nominations last year. Giving sympathy votes, however, doesn’t right that wrong.
Trivia: The inspiration for the narrative structure of the film came from Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s film Three Times (2005).