Review by Mark Schwab
Every darn time I start to get cynical and silently lament the cookie cutter movies that get produced every year, I get blindsided by something truly special. Last year it was ME, EARL and the DYING GIRL with its breathtaking view of teen angst. This year it is director Barry Jenkins' MOONLIGHT - an extraordinarily fresh take on the gay coming-of-age story that shatters stereotypes into a thousand pieces and should transcend (if there is any justice in this world) the niche audiences that usually seek this type of movie out.
The story focuses on one life over a (roughly) 20-year span and is told in three "chapters" reflecting our protagonist's name - "Little" as a young boy, "Chiron" - his actual birth name - as a high schooler, and "Black" as a hardened adult. The first two acts really provide the foundation for the third act and it would be a crime to reveal very much because director Jenkins has some beautiful surprises in store for you, dear reader, that you won't see coming.
Suffice to say that MOONLIGHT accomplishes so much without ever resorting to flashy tricks or amped up dialogue. It is expert camerawork and searing performances that are so good it is impossible not to get wrapped up in this young man's life. Seemingly simple moments - being bullied at school, drug dealing, the first awkward sexual steps - are handled with an honesty and intimacy that you just don't see on screen these days. The camera often has two characters just reacting to each other in emotional nudity that is much more suspenseful than most of the horror films coming off the assembly line. I knew I had become invested in this story early on when the young "Little" - having been mute for the first scenes - suddenly asks an adult father figure "What's a faggot?" in a slight heartbreaking voice and it hits you like a thunderbolt because of the way Jenkins has set you up perfectly for it without you even realizing it. That formula repeats itself beautifully for almost two hours. That is the genius of MOONLIGHT.