Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Barry Jenkins' groundbreaking MOONLIGHT: It's everything you've heard it is -- and more

Personal filmmaking raised to about as high a level as TrustMovies has so far seen, MOONLIGHT proves as quietly magnificent, immediately engrossing and enormously powerful as any film in years, if not memory. How does writer/director Barry Jenkins manage this?  Rather than expound at great length (so much of this has already been done by others), I'll first ask that you see for yourself. You'll be glad you did. (And now I'll expound just a little.)

I must admit that having seen and semi-enjoyed Mr. Jenkins' earlier Medicine for Melancholy, I would not have expected anything this momentous. What this filmmaker, shown at right, has done is give us the Black experience in a way that seems both utterly specific and hugely encompassing. That he has chosen to show us this via a character who is gay (something not exactly considered a "plus" in the Black community) makes it all the more amazing. Further, he has used three very different actors -- who look almost nothing alike facially or in body type! -- to portray the character as a boy, an adolescent and a young man.

Here they are, at left (Alex R. Hibbert, as the boy), below (Ashton Sanders as the adolescent version), and further below (Trevante Rhodes, as the young adult),

What unites these three so disparate-looking males is their very "essence," which Jenkins and his actors have captured beautifully and profoundly via the situations, the dialog (kept to a minimum) and the all-round filmmaking skills. This essence is what holds the film together and slowly allows us to understand the meaning of "character."

The movie is also about identity, where it comes from and what it means to each of us, and how, in terms of responsibility, it is up to us to form our own.

Character building and identity are ongoing things, which Moonlight also helps us understand. The movie begins in media res and ends there, too, In between, we get all we need to enter, understand, and live in the life we encounter here. This is no small potatoes, particularly where the Black experience is concerned, and it's what makes Moonlight such an achievement.

Further, I suspect that this achievement will impact both the black and white communities. Whites will come away from the film more empathetic to the black experience than via any other fictional tale except perhaps The Wire (which still holds the prize for showing us that experience more fully and empathetically than anything else).

The mainstream Black community also has a surprise in store, as it should come away from Moonlight with its own richer and more empathetic understanding of the Black gay male.

Sure, there are all kinds of lessons to be learned here, yet Moonlight seems anything but dogmatic and "teacher-y."  It engulfs you from its first scene and holds you fast through smart storytelling and expert performances. How Jenkins worked with his actors to gain their trust and let them discover that "essence" is an award-winning move all by itself.

The drug culture is a large part of this movie, too, though you will not have seen it expressed in quite the way it is here. (Again, only The Wire can top it in this respect.) That fine actor Mahershala Ali, shown above and below (from House of Cards), plays Juan, the mentor of our youngest iteration, and he's both a drug dealer and father figure.

Women play their own major roles here, too, with Naomie Harris (below) alternately horrifying and heartbreaking as our boy's drug-addled mom, and Janelle Monáe (at bottom) as his more caring, surrogate mother.

There's so much that can be said about this unusual film, the main thing being: Experience it yourself. For its penultimate scene alone, in the restaurant, below (that's André Holland, at right, as our boy's longtime best friend, Kevin), the movie will have you hanging on every heartbeat.

From A24, who clearly has another major Oscar contender here, and running 110 minutes, Moonlight -- after huge critical and box-office response to its NYC and L.A. openings -- hit the Miami area this past weekend at the O Cinema Wynwood, Regal South Beach & AMC Aventura Mall.

Friday, November 11, it opens here in Boca Raton and in the West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale areas, as well as expanding further around the entire country. In Dade County, it will play the Cinepolis Grove 15 in Coconut Grove; in Broward County at the Cinemark Paradise 24 in Davie and the Gateway 4 in Fort Lauderdale; in   Palm Beach County at Cobb's Downtown at the Mall Gardens Palm 16 in Palm Beach Gardens and at the Cinemark Palace 20 in Boca Raton. Click here to find the theater nearest you. Then go!

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