Great coming of age stories are few and far between. No doubt, watching the life of someone unfold before you can be interesting, but the thing about life is, most of it is dull and boring. There needs to be some dramatic heft and emotional beats to keep the viewer interested. If you don’t consistently have that, then you’re at times stuck just watching somebody live their meandering life, while not adding much to the characters and story. But when you do, true magic can be achieved.

Moonlight chronicles the life of Chiron, a young black boy growing up in a horrible ghetto neighborhood and under unfortunate circumstances. His mother (Naomi Harris) is verbally abusive and addicted to drugs, he’s constantly bullied in school, and his friendships and personal connections are very slim. After befriending a benevolent crack deal named Juan (Mahershala Ali), Chiron finds himself a father figure and these experiences, and many others throughout his life, shape him into the man he will become, even though it’s the complete opposite of who he really is.

Being told in three different parts, depicting the life of Chiron as a youth, a teenager, and as an adult, Moonlight is an absolute masterpiece. Using this structure to tell the story of Chiron, giving him different monikers in each part, was absolutely brilliant. Instead of showing many aspects of his life growing up, using three key moments that shape his identity was a great direction to go. Taking place over what seems to be 15-20 years, although large aspects of his life are skipped over, with little lines of exposition, or characterization, you can see the person he’s become over time. Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes (playing Young, Teen, and Adult Chiron, respectively) all do a fantastic job, each bringing the same amount of pain, turmoil, and hopelessness that Chiron is constantly feeling. Watching this sweet little boy being forced to hide his emotions and be kept down by his environment, thus molding him into somebody he doesn’t want to be, was heartbreaking. When we see a rough and tough Chiron at the end adorned with a do rag and gold grills, you can still see the real person underneath that is itching to break through. The rest of the performances are absolutely incredible. Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali are real standouts, delivering very natural and human performances, representing both extremes of Chiron’s world and how they ultimately affect his well being. Absolutely none of it feels like acting. It feels like you’re watching a real story about real people.

The story is about real people, though. I heard an excerpt of an interview with writer/director Barry Jenkins, who wanted to make a “cinematic and personal film”. Meeting with openly gay playwright Tarrell Alvin McCraney, they both developed a story based off McCraney’s personal experiences of growing up as a homosexual black man in an environment where that’s looked down upon. I was afraid that the film would get preachy about it’s themes, but it’s not that way at all. It’s just an element to the story and the character, but that’s not what the film is about. It’s about nature vs. nurture, and how the pressures of society make us bury our true self. When he have to hide who we truly are, and nobody else wants to accept you, going with the flow and doing only what you know is your only option. Jenkins has a fantastic command of visual storytelling, perfectly inserting ourselves into Chiron’s shoes. Pivotal moments of his life are conveyed with dreamlike cinematography with bizarre, sometimes anachronistic music making you feel the same confusion and despair he’s feeling at the moment. I’m a straight, white male, so while I may not have been able to relate, I was certainly able to empathize, which is key to any narrative. There’s absolutely nothing blatant in how the story is communicated. It’s rare to see a film that tackles these themes with such maturity and nuance.

Maturity and nuance were the perfect way to tell this story. Instead of making the film about Chiron’s sexuality, and instead making it a character trait in his quest for acceptance, made the film feel so much more real. There’s no cheese. No melodrama. It’s all expert filmmaking, and expert filmmaking is the kind that speaks to you with a commanding voice, making you not on analyze the film, but yourself. None of us are exactly like Chiron, but we all have the same beats to our stories. Trying to change who we really are to impress people, while confiding with close friends about our true feelings. Having to stand up to others who have wronged you, while also feeling a sense of forgiveness. We’ve all been there in one way, or another. Jenkins and McCraney have crafted a moving, thoughtful human story with filled with heart and soul. Living up to its title, Moonlight is absolutely beautiful.


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