OSCAR WATCH: Moonlight Review

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Does Moonlight have what it takes to be an Oscar contender?

As I was doing my Oscar Predictions article which you can read here, I couldn’t help but notice how the movie Moonlight kept popping up in the nominations. Admittedly not familiar with this movie and wanting to catch up to date on the big Oscar contenders, I decided to finally get around and review this movie. Per internet buzz, Moonlight was the best movie of the year for many. Emotional, profound and mesmerizing are a couple words used to describe this movie. So I had high expectations going in despite not knowing much about the plot. Does it live up to the hype? Well, let’s talk about that.

It’s probably not too much of a reach to say that a lot of people like this movie because of the message it has to say.  The movie is about the life of a passive young black man named Chiron and his struggles with growing up in a crime infested neighborhood in Miami. It takes us through three separate acts of Chiron’s life; one as a young boy, one as a high schooler, and the last as an adult man.   Chiron has a tough life. He is a poor minority without a father in his life apparently and his mom is a drug addict.  That might be bad enough but he is also gay…or has an inkling that he might be gay as a young child.  This leads to him being bullied consistently as a young child because he is seemingly different from his peers. He seeks solace and refuge with a friendly drug dealer played by Mahershala Ali, who kind of takes him under his wing like a big brother or father figure. This is all very endearing and nice.  The second act is Chiron as a high schooler and the bullying has gotten worse. Not only is he afraid to leave school when it’s out for fear of getting beat up but his mom also has gotten more volatile and abusive when he comes home.  Fortunately, not everyone is against Chiron. He has a friend named Kevin, who is a bit of braggart troublemaker.  Kevin helps Chiron come to terms with accepting who he really is. However, despite the presence of his friend, things only get more complicated for Chiron in this act.  The third act is Chiron now nicknamed Black as a full grown man. Here we learn how all of his past has built up to the point where he has to put up some sort of façade about who he really is. He is a hardened criminal due to his early nurturing and environment.  The question is will Chiron ever reconcile with the people from his past, namely his mother and friend Kevin and also will he ever come to accept who he really is.

There are a lot of things to like about this movie. The best part is easily the performance by Best Supporting Actor nominee Mahershala Ali as the young Chiron’s mentor in the first act. He conveys a friendly demeanor but also someone who you wouldn’t want to double cross. His scenes with Chiron are enjoyable and he brings an energy to the screen that livens up a very sad movie. The look of the movie is very interesting.  The color scheme is very documentary like and provides a very gritty atmosphere to the movie which is fascinating. The score of the movie is also interesting. After all this, it sort of falls off.  It’s disappointing that the film starts off with Ali’s character being showcased as a central figure when he just disappears after the first act without much of an explanation. The movie suffered without his presence after that.  The cinematography is somewhat choppy. The execution of the third act is also disappointing. While the first two personifications of Chiron were fine enough, I never felt the third iteration of Chiron as an adult was believable. I get what they were trying to convey but I didn’t buy that the actor they casted for adult Chiron was Chiron. Naomi Harris’ portrayal of Chiron’s drug addicted mother was stereotypical, cliché and I’m not particularly convinced it was worthy of a Best Supporting Actress nomination.  Without wanting to spoil anything, the ending was also too anti climatic for me. I’m also baffled by some things adult Chiron mentions too which I won’t bring up here.  I understand the message that this movie is trying to send.  The harsh reality of growing up as a gay, poor minority in this country is something that people need to be aware of.  Social justice warriors will love this movie, but it was a little too dramatic and uncompelling for me.

Grade: C+

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