As the upcoming Oscar season comes up, I decided I would try to get some of the nominations out of the way. And Moonlight was at the top of the list. I have heard nothing but good things about this movie and a handful of friends have asked if I saw it yet (I guess not realizing that they could just look at my website).
And then when I finally got Moonlight out of the way, I held off on writing the review because I thought Moonlight was relatively overrated. Now usually when I think a movie is this overrated, it’s because it’s from Disney, a company that has somehow brainwashed the general public into never viewing their movies objectively, but this is this is an Oscar contender.
Now I realize that my opinions are extremely unpopular, so in order to describe as clearly as I can why I don’t think this movie is great (it’s certainly a good movie), I am forced to spoil the movie. If any of you wanted the article to be spoiler free, then just skip to the final paragraph like the rest of my reviews.
Now this movie is not without it’s fantastic achievements. In fact, most of what Moonlight gets right is what most mainstream movies gets wrong: a relatively unique soundtrack that, considering this is almost an entirely black-casted film, isn’t filled to the brim with mediocre, crappy soul music (like another movie that recently came out). It also has acting and direction that allowed you to pick up on what was happening through reference instead of everything being spelled out for you. Finally, it has well-shot cinematography with (almost) entirely intentional film direction; yes, there were some scenes that felt overly-drawn out, unnecessarily artsy, and pointless, but the majority of the scenes were well done.
This isn’t a bad movie… it’s just a movie that goes absolutely nowhere. The best example I can think of is The VVitch, which is also well acted, well shot, and well played, but in the end, there was almost nothing to take away from this movie. And the very few things that you could take away from Moonlight has been done before in better movies (not necessarily better in the technical side of moviemaking, but in general story).
The movie is split up into three parts, all telling the story of a man named Chiron. The first part is about his childhood, then his teenage years, and then his adulthood. All three parts are played by different actors, and any possible reoccurring character (aside from Chiron’s mother) is almost completely dropped for the other parts.
This made it nearly impossible to actually get to know any of these characters, especially considering the only reoccurring character that gets any focus gets re-casted during part 2 or 3.
The most interesting character is Juan played by Mahershala Ali, which was surprising since I considered his performance lukewarm in Luke Cage. The man is a drug dealer, but oddly (and perhaps unrealistically) a family man who has a lot of pity on how Chiron is treated. He’s one of the only character aside from Chiron that has a massive amount of depth, and he is the sole character with any sort of intrigue.
Upon discovery of Chiron, Juan becomes a father figure of sorts in his life and fills an obvious void that his absent father and his drugged mother have left behind.
And when it’s discovered that he’s the reason why Chiron’s mother is addicted to drugs, and how he breaks down when Chiron asks him this question, it was one of the most emotionally impactful scenes.
… and then they get to part two, and he never appears again in the entire movie ever again, not even once. There was still so much to this character that could have been explored, and instead they just completely get rid of him.
That’s not to say that Chiron isn’t an interesting character; he is. The way he completely shuts down because of the way he’s treated in school, the way he’s dealing with his sexuality, and the way his mother constantly abuses him, makes him a completely intricate and heartbreaking character.
It also expands on some of the themes built up: how your environment can shape the way you see yourself, how broken children can become without functional parental figures, and how nature and nurture affect our sexuality.
And then at one point, teenage Chiron gets jerked off by his best guy friend, also a teenager.
Now I don’t necessarily bring this up because I think it’s a bad scene (aside from the fact that I watched this movie with my dad and little brother…), and I don’t bring this up because I find it a little irritating when movies sexualize teenagers and children (though I do get irked by it). I bring this up because this is around the point where the movie gets one-noted and predictable.
Now because I saw The Perks of Being a Wallflower (and quite a few other movies and shows like it), when I saw that Chiron’s bully started sitting with Chiron’s new lover immediately after the two had a sexual experience, it was impossible for me not to realize that his lover was going to be pressured into beating up Chiron by the end.
That being said, the second part does end fairly interestingly because it shows Chiron’s transformation from being a quiet, wimpy kid to being a violent, confrontational monster in order to defend himself (because everyone else has turned on him), thus reinforcing the theme of how the environment changes you as a person.
It’s not until the third part where the movie takes an absolute nosedive, because the entire third act is only about how much he wants to have sex with his guy friend he doesn’t talk to anymore.
There’s a few loose ends that it tries to tie up, but it is quite clear that the sole focus of the third act is how he is trying to get back together with his best friend turned gay lover in high school (the one that beat the crap out of him). The constant sexual tension that the movie is plastered with drowns out any other message that the movie was trying to send.
And that’s fine, but the whole movie is Chiron struggling to find out WHO he is.
What answer does the movie give us? He’s really really really gay. And that’s it.
And that’s fine too, but the movie never even tries to tie up anything else about his story.
At the very end of the movie, when Chiron and his friend cuddle up next to each other, I was thinking “Interesting, now I wonder what they’re going to say about his now deep existence in the drug business and how that will affect his life. I wonder they will give any sort closure to Teresa or Juan, considering they completely forgot about those characters …. What? Oh… that’s it? That was the entire movie?”
Now I can understand that some people might reasonably say, “Well you just didn’t have proper expectations for this movie.” And sure, I can understand those arguments, but it still doesn’t change the fact that this movie ends up turning into a romance movie about two people with questionable likability.
And if this romance was between an unlikable man and an unlikable woman, fewer people would care about it.
That being said, it’s still a well-shot movie with a good soundtrack and good script. The acting, while never amazing, is great throughout. But it’s all used to tell a story that really only devolves into a bunch of sexual tension. That’s not to say that it’s a bad movie; it’s to say that it doesn’t do much with its ending. If you’re looking for a different movie that has all the mechanical aspects in top notch form, then see this movie immediately, but as for me, I’d say that the movie never gives you the opportunity to latch onto any character considering they get rid of most of them and recast certain roles, and the ending was lackluster.