Moonlight (2016)

brooke I’m not sure how exactly to talk about Moonlight because it is so different in so many ways from most films
But to start, it reminded me a bit of Boyhood, if Boyhood has been a lot better.

casey And unlike Boyhood, I think its impact as a story, not just as a neat cinematic experiment, will only grow over time.

brooke It’s already grown on me since we’ve seen it

casey Moonlight is a drama told in three chapters that follows a shy, reedy Miami kid named Chiron (played by three actors: Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes) as he grows into a man. His mother is a drug addict played by Naomie Harris, and his only friend is the goofy but good-hearted Kevin (also played by three actors: Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and André Holland). Early on a young Chiron, after being terrorized by other kids, is taken under the wing of drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe, who become a support system throughout his youth. The second chapter skips forward to a teenaged Chiron, now ruthlessly bullied in high school. We see his first sexual encounter, then a critical action that reverberates through the third act when a fully grown Chiron returns to Miami to see his old friend Kevin for the first time in years.
There’s a lot here to unpack, so what stood out to you?

brooke I was really impressed at the way each piece connects, and how the gaps in storytelling are filled with imagery rather than heavy-handed storytelling or narrative. Take Chiron’s mom, for example: when he’s still little, she has a job and is starting to get into drugs on the side. By his teen years, her addiction has destroyed her life and is threatening to ruin his. When Chiron is an adult, she’s cleaned up and lives in a rehab facility. We don’t need to know what happened in between to understand what life looked like for them between those intervals.

casey The choice of lead actors also tells a story, particularly between the second and third acts when Chiron has matured from a scrawny, nervous teenager into a toned man with an affected swagger. Without any words the transition tells you so much about how he’s changed and how that masks his deeper insecurities, and although the actors don’t necessarily look alike, all three incorporate small mannerisms that maintain a strong sense of continuity in the character.

brooke The teenaged Chiron really got under my skin in a good way. His performance as an awkward kid, bullied by his peers at school and his mother at home, whose only friend can’t risk his social standing to protect Chiron from his attackers, is moving to say the least. He’s also frequently called “faggot” by his schoolmates, and it’s hard to watch since we know he actually is gay but deeply closeted, and he mostly wants to keep to himself and stay out of trouble. Kevin, Chiron’s only friend, is present for–and a catalyst of–some of the most powerful formative experiences that Chiron has at that stage, and the ending of the second act is my favorite scene in the movie. I could have just watched that middle piece and been satisfied, but the first and third acts turn it into a work of art.
One of my few problems with Moonlight is that I wanted to see a lot more Janelle Monáe, who turns in a stunning and understated performance as one of Chiron’s few role models.

casey She’s incredible, and you’d never guess that this is her first major film credit. Speaking of Chiron’s sexual identity, going back to him as an adult, one thing that struck me is that his persona is both a defense mechanism against what has happened to him but also an homage to his only father figure, Juan. But in becoming who he has become, he’s buried another part of himself in a way that is more fully revealed as he and Kevin reconnect (“Who is you?” Kevin repeatedly asks in one of the most affecting scenes, a question Chiron struggles to answer). It’s heartbreaking, but in a way that ultimately offers faint glimmers of hope and elicits tremendous empathy.
It’s friggin’ beautiful, is what I’m saying.

brooke It is. I don’t know how much more I can say without giving too much away, but I thought Moonlight was gorgeous and gritty all at once, and it’s the kind of movie that has left me thinking a lot about it.

casey It’s one of the year’s best. I look forward to seeing it again.

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