Movie review: Moonlight, from Barry Jenkins

The adult THINKS he’s figured out his path.

I didn’t notice until after The Wife and I saw the movie Moonlight at the Spectrum. The poster for the film is a triptych, as was the movie itself. Moonlight is billed as a “coming-of-age story,” with three distinct, but related, tales.

In the first portion, Little, the black youth (Alex Hibbert) is living in a down-and-out section of Miami. He’s constantly running from the bullies, who pick on him, though he really doesn’t understand why. Little is living with his single mom, Paula (Naomie Harris), a drug addict. He has but one friend, Kevin (Jaden Piner), and falls under the influence of a neighborhood drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) and Juan’s girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe).

The second segment is Chiron, where the 16-year-old (Ashton Sanders) continues to deal with his difficult life. The third part is Black, the adult (Trevante Rhodes) who thinks he’s figured out his path. The movie also stars Duan Sanderson, Jharrel Jerome, and André Holland in these segments. Despite the three lead actors over time, the narrative does NOT feel episodic.

The movie is adapted from Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by screenwriter and director Barry Jenkins. It was filmed in the Liberty City section of Miami, where Jenkins grew up.

As Steven Rea of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes, “‘Moonlight’ is and isn’t a story of Jenkins’ life. Like Chiron’s mother in the film, Jenkins’ mother was an addict. Like Chiron’s father in the film, Jenkins’ father was nowhere to be seen. But it is McCraney, the Miami-born and -raised playwright, whose sexuality is reflected in Chiron.”

Moonlight is a well-regarded film. Brian Tallerico writes in rogerebert.com, “‘Moonlight’ is a film that is both lyrical and deeply grounded in its character work, a balancing act that’s breathtaking to behold.” While you may have seen elements of this story in other films, in its totality, it’s unlike any movie I’ve seen.