That academy sheen

Expectations can sometimes be a bad thing. 

 

MOONLIGHT

Director:  Barry Jenkins
Cast: Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali
Rating:  (M)
Three and a half stars (out of five)

As Moonlight had arrived in theatres on a wave of awards-season hype, with an almost endless succession of reviewers lining up to spout poster-ready superlatives, I was fully prepared to be stunned and transformed by the experience, and while maybe not the second coming of motion pictures I’d anticipated, it’s still a thoughtful and original variation on some familiar ground.

Taking a novelistic approach to its story, writer/director Barry Jenkins’ second feature, set in and around a Miami housing project, presents a bare-bones snapshot of the character of Chiron, played by three different actors at three key moments of his life: as a frightened 8-year-old befriended by a  drug dealer, as a bullied teenager coming to terms with his sexuality, and as a scarred young adult struggling to find peace and acceptance.

One of the film’s most impressive achievements is its embrace, without any judgement, of outsider identities often marginalised or stereotyped in mainstream cinema, although independent film-makers have been doing this for decades without the same recognition.

It also can’t help but fall into cliche at times, such as in the stock characters of Chiron’s crack-addicted mother Paula (Naomie Harris), or of Juan (Mahershala Ali), the pusher man with a heart of gold who becomes an unlikely father figure to the boy. However, Jenkins cleverly avoids the big movie moments you’d normally expect in favour of a quiet, honest realism that aspires to the poetic.

- Jeremy Quinn

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