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Joel Mayward

Moonlight

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No thread for this? From filmmaker Barry Jenkins, the film is structured in three acts, each focused on a different stage in the life--childhood, adolescence, young adulthood--for a young black man trying to understand his own masculinity and sexuality in 1980s and 90s Miami. The film is currently at 99 on Metacritic, and is one of the more beautifully lit films I've seen in 2016. From my review:

Quote

Moonlight is holistically beautiful. Its cinematography, its performances, its narrative, its ideas, its moments–there is an aura of empathy and glory surrounding all of it. Moonlight has a timeless quality to it, structured as three sections in the life of a young black man growing up in Miami during the 1980s and 90s. Yet the timeline is best captured in moments and images: a hand grasping the sand in ecstasy; a sink full of ice water; the chrome on a dashboard; a man teaching a boy how to swim in the surf of the Atlantic. Perhaps most visually striking is the lighting of Moonlight. Everything in the film, particularly human skin and eyes, are aglow with allure and mystery. It’s noticeable when a person’s eyes or skin aren’t flush with this subtle aureole complexion....

 

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Andrew   

Yes, I loved this film, too.  Scarcely a flaw to be found on any level, with an authentic, profound screenplay and superb performances all around.  I gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars, too.

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NBooth   

This is another one that's playing just far enough away from me, and at just the right times, that I'm unlikely to see it before it hits DVD. But I've heard so much good about it--including these reviews--that I'm definitely putting it at the top of my must-watch list.

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fizz   

It's discussions like this that make me feel inadequate as a film reviewer. I went in with high expectations only to feel the film thought it said more than it actually did. There was a lot to like, but not enough to push it to the top of my 2016 list.

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3 hours ago, Darren H said:

Two days later, I'm beginning to think Moonlight is my favorite film of 2016. Can't wait to see it again to see how it holds up.

I'm with you. I'm seeing Manchester by the Sea tonight, and have a few more I'd like to see before making the declaration of favorites, but it's the best I've seen thus far. There's much to praise in this film, yet I keep coming back to the lighting and color, and to the eyes of the actors. There's something incredible about the performances from the three actors portraying Chiron simply in what they communicate through their eyes, far more than their words. Chiron isn't much of a talker, but so much is communicated in a glance or a glare. And I mean glare in both senses--a look of anger, and the sheen from light.

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I think that this actually is sort of a very small film, rendered in very big ways.  The emotional drama is intimate.

I think the piece Jeff notices about Chiron lacking much characterization is important, I saw it as a feature, not a bug.  It's the same way a Jacob Lawrence painting doesn't really allow you to see anyone's face.  Or like the narrator in Ellison's Invisible Man. (Some of the shots reminded me a little of Lawrence's approach to light and contrast too).

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NBooth   

I'm watching this movie later this week, for certain. Meanwhile, there's this:

 

 

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I'm gonna go out on a limb here, in response to Jeffrey's review. He says that Chiron seems to lack character because we only ever see him suffering. Perhaps this is an artistic choice as Holy Moly says or a mistake on the writers part, or perhaps it's just the truth. Perhaps what makes one uncomfortable is the idea that for some people, certainly for a black gay man growing up in poverty and segregation in New Jim Crow Era America suffering is all they know. That there are few if any moments of grace, joy, or peace, perhaps this character is the sum of their suffering and that is what makes them them. We need to ask ourselves why this character resonated so deeply with the Black and gay community. He felt real to them. They could say, yeah that's me. If our assessment is this character seems one dimensional and that dimension is pain perhaps we need to examine why that dimension exists so totally in the real world of our black and gay friends. Maybe life hammers at them til it leaves only one dimension.

And I'll just point out that it weirds me out that a character whose one dimensionalness was suffering invoked boredom rather than deeply felt empathy. Like sheesh stop hurting so much...life isn't that bad...oh right...well...maybe for us it isn't. And yes I'd feel the same way if the character had been white and straight.

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I've seen all kinds of stories about characters who suffer severely. Some of them were characters who seemed real to me. Others didn't. Chiron didn't. It's a matter of characterization. He seemed contrived to me.

I also haven't seen particularly compelling evidence of how Chiron "resonated so deeply with the Black and gay community." I've seen a lot of enthusiasm from moviegoers who talk a lot more about how excited they are to see a well-crafted film about Black characters and about gay characters — and that is, indeed, something worth celebrating. But most of the buzz has been about how "we finally have a well made movie of this kind" and the socio-political significance of that than about the details of Chiron's character. 

This is now "Sheesh, stop hurting so much." This is about storytelling. Teaching fiction, I see a lot of stories coming from students which are the same story — a cipher-like character suffers the outrageous behaviors of crazy parents, intolerant neighbors, abusive lovers, etc., etc., and it's my job to help them find a *story* in there. 

Please keep in mind — I did not dislike this movie. I just found aspects of it frustrating and disappointing, so that I did not experience much suspension of disbelief. That's not a fact I can turn back the clock and change. Don't make me into Moonlight's enemy.

Edited by Overstreet

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Overstreet wrote:
: I also haven't seen particularly compelling evidence of how Chiron "resonated so deeply with the Black and gay community."

Just as an aside, Moonlight is probably the first movie in my lifetime to win the Oscar for Best Picture despite being the lowest-grossing Best Picture nominee of its year. (It has grossed only a fraction of what Hidden Figures, a genuine box-office hit and yet another Best Picture nominee with African-American protagonists, grossed.)

And when the film first came out, one of the points that people sometimes made was that being gay is particularly difficult in the African-American community, as compared to the American community at large. (The large black-voter turnout for Obama in 2008 was, ironically, partly responsible for the passing of Proposition 8 in California.)

So, yeah, I'm not sure what evidence there is that this film, or this character in particular, resonated so deeply across the black *community*. Hidden Figures, I could see. Moonlight, maybe, but I don't know.

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Rushmore   

Anecdotally, I can confirm that the film and its central character resonated deeply with several critics I follow (e.g.  Angelica Jade Bastién and Kyle Turner) and people I know in the black and/or gay communities. I don't have data.

I found something real and convincing in Chiron, despite the narrowness of his experience in the film. Holy Moly's Invisible Man comparison seems to be an illuminating one.

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Andrew   

My social phobia maybe gives me a way to connect to Chiron, but I find his desire to melt silently into the background wherever he goes entirely plausible and (ack, I hate this word) relatable.

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I've heard Moonlight compared to Boyhood and Chiron compared to Mason, as both can seem more like observers or ciphers than participants in their own coming-of-age stories, and both films have strong, distinct formal elements. I love and appreciate both of these films, partly for their similarities in being coming-of-age stories told in unique and well-crafted ways (which reminds me, shouldn't we have a Top 25 Coming of Age Films for A&F? ;)), but mostly because they explore a particular character's adolescent experience in a specific context/community, i.e. a white straight male in Texas vs. a black gay male in Miami. And the three actors portraying Chiron--especially Trevante Rhodes--give *far* more compelling performances than Ellar Coltrane. I think the critique of a central character being one-dimensional or a cipher for suffering can be better leveled at this year's Manchester by the Sea, but I also found The Fits to be the better well-lit coming-of-age tale of a young black person trying to find his/her place of belonging and sexual maturation.

All this to say, I found Jeff's review and consideration of Moonlight quite defensible, even if I had a different experience in viewing the film. Suggesting that Jeff (or others) lack empathy with suffering characters is unnecessary.

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I don't think I said anything about lacking empathy. Jeffrey is one of the most empathetic people I know. Which is why his statements on the character of Chiron as seeming boring and one dimensional cause all he does is suffer sort of surprised me. 

 

I grant that, as usual, I could have worded things better. I follow a rather large group of social justice bent lgbtq bloggers and from what I read in their Facebook statuses and comments Moonlight resonated with them deeply and felt -real- which is why if the character truly does seem to not have one moment untinged with sorrow that actually makes me feel more empathetic to his character if it's telling a story like that of my friends and in turn pushes me to desire to do better as a straight cis person in their lives.

Edited by Justin Hanvey

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Joel, your comparison of Moonlight to Boyhood is an interesting one, but it occurs to me that Boyhood never gets past the second act of Moonlight, inasmuch as Boyhood never gets out of the teen years. Chiron is at least in his 20s or something in the third act of Moonlight, no?

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11 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Joel, your comparison of Moonlight to Boyhood is an interesting one, but it occurs to me that Boyhood never gets past the second act of Moonlight, inasmuch as Boyhood never gets out of the teen years. Chiron is at least in his 20s or something in the third act of Moonlight, no?

Yeah, Chiron--or "Black" in the third act--is almost certainly in his late 20s, though I've yet to find a definitive age for him in any reviews, interviews, or comments from the filmmakers (Trevante Rhodes is currently 27 years old). IMDB lists the character of Kevin as 9 and 16 in the first two acts, but doesn't give an age for Andre Holland's version of Kevin in the final act (Holland is currently 37 years old).

On the surface, Boyhood and Moonlight appear very different in their respective approaches to coming-of-age stories, but I think the deliberate and overt formal structures--the real-time growth of Boyhood and the three-act structure of Moonlight--elicit some worth comparisons for me, especially as both of their central characters are, perhaps, less interesting than the supporting cast surrounding them. Case in point: both films were nominated and won Best Supporting awards, while not being nominated for Best Actor. They also are highly aware of their contexts, and make the environment itself a supporting character in the formation of these boys becoming men. And yeah, while Boyhood never leaves...well, boyhood, and Moonlight expands its adolescent scope to incorporate emerging adulthood, I think many of the themes are congruent: these are films about a young man's identity formation as he tries to discern between the various external voices he's receiving, as well as the internal intuition and passions he's feeling, especially regarding his sexuality and his place within society.

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NBooth   

I expect this movie will grow on me, but an initial viewing left me a tad disappointed. Not that I didn't like it--I did, a lot--but I wanted to love it, and expected to based on several factors (stylistic matters not least). As it stands, the story feels just a tad disjointed and each section under-developed. 

Again, on rewatch I may feel different. This definitely seems like a movie that demands slow, patient rewatching. 

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M. Leary   
12 hours ago, NBooth said:

I expect this movie will grow on me, but an initial viewing left me a tad disappointed. Not that I didn't like it--I did, a lot--but I wanted to love it, and expected to based on several factors (stylistic matters not least). As it stands, the story feels just a tad disjointed and each section under-developed. 

Again, on rewatch I may feel different. This definitely seems like a movie that demands slow, patient rewatching. 

I thought the first section very strong. It was well crafted and paced. The performances worked very well - calling to mind some child/adult Dardennes or Dumont ensembles. It has a loose plot and structure. Everything feels open and full of potential. It really digs deep.

The next two cycles suffer a bit in comparison. Once the plotting hits, Jenkins' direction seems to lose some of its magic. The last act even seems to abandon his really insightful, physical focus on the body in its turn toward relationships. In the first act, I really felt that tension developed by Coates in his recent book on the same idea - that the black male fundamentally feels loss of control over one's body, which is the reality behind what we try to talk about in more abstract terms as institutionalized racism. This all kind of dissipates as the film moves forward.

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Evan C   

Having watched Moonlight twice, I second everything M. said. The first act is phenomenal, I'd put that by itself in my top five for last year; the second is a little too focused on moving the plot forward at the expense of the characters; and the relationship focus of the third act isn't nearly as strong as the societal focus of the first two. Still, it's really good even with those weaknesses, but I think they'll always keep it short of greatness for me.

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On 5/9/2017 at 6:36 AM, M. Leary said:

The last act even seems to abandon his really insightful, physical focus on the body in its turn toward relationships. In the first act, I really felt that tension developed by Coates in his recent book on the same idea - that the black male fundamentally feels loss of control over one's body, which is the reality behind what we try to talk about in more abstract terms as institutionalized racism.

Regarding Coates and black bodies, I think this is why the third act is so compelling for me, as Little's body has become Black's body, and not without purpose or intentionality. It's so surprising to see Trevante Rhodes appear as Chiron in that final act, because he's all muscle and masculinity, which the young Chiron lacks. It's a young black man taking/owning his body, a body which has been predetermined by the cultural narrative of racism (especially in the American South), while still being caught up in a slavery and performance of sorts, where he cannot fully be himself romantically or sexually without arousing suspicion or disapproval. The second act still isn't as interesting as the bookends, but I wouldn't count the final act out--Rhodes' performance is uniquely powerful in that he manages to still be Little while also being Black, embodying both personas/identities with his posture and eye contact.

Edited by Joel Mayward

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