Lending a voice to characters that are rarely heard in film, Moonlight recalibrates the coming-of-age genre.
Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue and charting the life of a young man growing up in a rough Miami neighbourhood, Moonlight unfolds in three chapters. Opening with a petite boy nicknamed “Little” (Alex Hibbert), who’s sheltering from bullies in an abandoned house and is soon found by drug dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali), a visually imposing but compassionate figure, who along with his partner Teresa (Janelle Monáe), offer parental warm and guidance. Filling the void left by Little’s troubled mother Paula (Naomie Harris), whose addiction lines Juan’s pockets.
Secondly, we’re introduced to Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders), still struggling at home and school, he’s pushed to breaking point and as a result, we finally meet Trevante Rhodes’ “Black”, physically transformed, with a striking resemblance to his guardian Juan.
Every actor breathes captivating life into each version of Chiron, with no resemblance to each other, their eyes are the through-line, beaming out curiosity, anguish and longing in a glance, captured entrancingly by cinematographer James Laxton. Ali is phenomenal as an unlikely father figure, his warm embrace at odds with what he supplies the streets of Miami with. There’s also a wealth of support, with a nuanced, quiet outing from Monáe and a haunting performance from Harris.
Elegantly directed by Barry Jenkins, his luminous second feature is mesmerising and tactile, its vibrancy and prominent focus on the ocean creates a trance-like experience. While Juan teaches Little to swim in a beautifully tender scene, the waves engulf you as they wash over the entangled pair.
Moonlight is built upon a sincere collection of defining chapters from a perspective too often overlooked.