Movie Review: “Moonlight” Doesn’t Shoot for the Moon, Doesn’t Have to

“Moonlight,” based on Tarell Alvin McCraney’s unproduced play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” is one of the two best films you’ll see out of 2016.

Director Barry Jenkins has made this play into something that would only work on the screen, with meaningful camera movement and extremely beautiful shots in decrepit but simultaneously gorgeous locales.

The story is powerful. It is a story that is not told in film often. It is the life of a gay black boy growing up in the southern slums, making his own way and deciding whom he can be. The story is told in three segments, and three guys who have never met give the three main performances. Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes play Little, Chiron and Black respectively.

The actors are all amazing. They’re all believable and, even though they look different, they clearly portray the same character at three different times in his life. Hibbert, Sanders, and especially Rhodes are in their way to stardom. 

However, the central performances aren’t the only ones that blew me away. The star for me (and awards voters) was Mahershala Ali. I won’t say too much about his character, but his scenes as a friend to Little are incredible. He’s so real.

Almost every single performance in this movie feels different than any movie I’ve seen that had actors. Even scenes that are set up as if they should feel artificial are extremely low on any sign of artifice. Only one or two scenes feel acted, and one of them isn’t even real in the context of the film.

However the other artificial scene threatens to derail the movie. They are so out of nowhere and, clearly, there to just advance the plot. It’s bizarre. Thankfully, the movie is strong enough to get over that scene and become an overall terrific movie.

This movie is needed right now, and, unfortunately, that is its second biggest fault. I’m afraid that in a couple years, this movie will be seen as very of-the-moment, as a message movie. It’s not, but that doesn’t mean people won’t see it that way. I loved this movie and I don’t want it to fall by the wayside. It’s beautiful.

However, as much as I loved this movie, I don’t think it should have won best picture.

The 2017 Best Picture win feels almost like an apology for the praise that “La La Land” received, as well as for the lack of diversity in previous nominations and winners.

I don’t want “Moonlight”‘s win to be seen as an apology. I don’t want it to become the “Crash” of the 2017 awards, a movie that is a) mostly forgotten except for the debacle it caused and b) seen as an award won strictly for its muddled message.

That isn’t what “Moonlight” should be. If it hadn’t won, there could be righteous indignation about its loss, but as it is Moonlight” seems to have stolen “La LA Land”‘s Oscar in a bungled apology from the Academy. It doesn’t look good.