MOONLIGHT (2016, Barry Jenkins)
First of all, apologies to all 14 of my readers, for not publishing anything lately. It’s been tough to focus on reviewing movies — or even seeing them — ever since the country was blown to smithereens by an uninformed electorate who made a horrible choice, the consequences of which seem terrifying even before Trump is inaugurated, and which will grow to apocalyptic levels in due time. Forgetting for a moment the political side of it (which, sure, reasonable people disagree on the economic and foreign policy differences between the democratic agenda and the republican one — but in Trump’s hands it seems clear that nobody will benefit when global finance tanks and world leaders lose all respect for the USA), there’s the cultural impact: the realization that we live in a country with enough people who at worst cheer for racism, xenophobia, and misogyny, or at best think a person who embodies those evils is fine to install as leader of the free world. Not just tolerating him, but actively voting to put him in such a powerful position (to surround himself with even worse cronies).
And apologies to MOONLIGHT itself, which I saw a couple of weeks ago and am only getting around to reviewing now. Plenty of details no doubt have vanished from my mind, and this would be a better review had I written it shortly after I saw it, and/or in a mindset that wasn’t cluttered by the ascendency to autocracy of a narcissistic demagogue supported by neo-Nazis and contemptuous of the very people he duped into electing him.
I wonder what Chiron would think of the nightmare that 60 million people have chosen to inflict upon this country for who knows how long. Does he think about such larger issues? Does he vote? Will he miss Obama? It’s hard to know from MOONLIGHT, since he’s a character formed by nothing more than what we see on screen: some poverty porn, a crackhead mother, a soulful drug-dealing father figure, homophobic violence, and the discovery of his own sexual identity. Not much else. That Jenkins and co-writer Tarell McCraney’s screenplay brush this life in broad strokes isn’t a deal-breaker, though, because so much else about this movie works really well.
Take the tiny details: Chrion removing the gold fronts he wears on his teeth in order to eat the dinner Kevin has lovingly made for him; this not only deconstructs the hard-banging black male thug stereotype, but it serves as a kind of unmasking of Chiron for Kevin. There’s the shot of Chiron’s hand gripping the beach sand during his first erotic encounter, a grasp at texture to remember a moment that feels unreal. There are the lyrical passages reminiscent of Malick and Wong Kar-wai, and a swelling soundtrack. And best of all, the performances of Mahershala Ali and André Holland — at once understated and powerful. They suggest lives complex enough to exist outside the frame of this movie.
Naomie Harris doesn’t fare quite as well, though I’m not sure if that’s due to the role as written or her showy performance (though the latter stands out in opposition to the styles utilized by Ali and Holland, as well as the three guys who play Chiron). There’s a lot to like about Jenkins’s voice and I look forward to his next movie; but the ideas here are better than the overall package that made it to the screen.