Star rating: 3/4
Writer/director: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes
The weird thing is I thought I was seeing Silence tomorrow…
Ha Ha Ha
Moonlight had a lot to live up to, I’ll give it that. I will. I’ll also throw in some things that were wonderful: the colorful lighting, the bold and unconventional camera movement, the single violin score (for most of the movie, anyway), the wonderful acting of Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes, the wonderful supporting acting of Janelle Monae.
Yet, I am trying to figure something out about this movie, which tells the story of Chiron in three different phases of life as a young boy, high schooler, and adult, that does not totally sit right with me: the silence. The movie had so much air I could have float back to Los Angeles if I knew how to harness it. I swear 50% of this movie is people looking at each other, no score, no words. Just looking. Staring. That’s a fact. You either love it or you don’t.
I often found my mind wandering during this 1 hour and 51 minute film. I thought about stuff on my to-do list, people I wanted to reach out, what to pack for my upcoming semester. I wouldn’t necessarily say that was a consequence Barry Jenkins intended. I also thought about adults who were my world as a young girl, while watching the beginning of the film. I was right there with high school Chiron, thinking about my infatuations as a seventeen year-old. I do think that is a consequence Barry Jenkins intended. When Chiron was an adult, I really tuned out—perhaps because of my own experience restrictions from my meager 21 years.
What I read somewhat recently—and I’m paraphrasing—reading books makes a person more empathetic because one experiences someone else’s life while emerged in a story. As someone who read a lot growing up, I can attest to this. I know how disorientating a book hangover can be…it’s hard to be pulled out of someone else’s brain and life. With Moonlight, it is safe to say that I do not naturally identify with a gay African-American boy growing up with a single drug-addict mother in the slums of Miami. There is no part of my life that seemingly resonates with his. And that’s perfectly okay. However, I was thinking, how is it that we so easily empathize with protagonists in novels—no matter how different they are from ourselves, but we can remain so very distant from them in the movies. If I’m being honest with myself, the main reason I did not love love love Moonlight is because I did not empathize with the character the way I needed to. Perhaps it was all the silence.
Moonlight seems to be in a race this year with La La Land. Of course, they could not be more different. Writer/director Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is escapist cinema. Something you turn on to cheer you up. It is romantic, with two A-list leads, fun to watch and dance in your chair to, and nostalgic for a more golden time in Hollywood. What’s not to love? On the other hand, you have Moonlight, a real piece of realistic grit. Writer/director Barry Jenkins deals with social issues and let’s the audience feel uncomfortable at times—ultimately to tell a story that anyone sane would agree needs to be told. Whether you think one is better of the other is, in my opinion, what your mood is that day. And that’s okay. Somedays movies need to be your warm blanket on a rainy day. Any lover of the movies knows what it is like to have that one movie that can cure even the hardest of heartaches or suckiest of days. But any lover of movies also knows the power of visual storytelling. The imperative of stories needing to be told in this medium to reach a wider audience. Cinema is a gift in this regard.
That’s why I don’t want any part in this rat race. Ultimately, both films are not the best in what they do. La La Land will never be a Singin’ in the Rain or even The Artist. And most likely, Moonlight isn’t going to stay in my brain past the Oscars in February. That does not mean they are bad films—they are very well-made films. But I refuse to call certain movies the best simply because they were the best in 2016. I have no problem waiting until I see a truly spectacular in the theaters. I don’t care how many years it takes. It’s not like I get paid to write these reviews and I have to dub a couple films every year “a masterpiece,” so that greedy PR teams can use my quotes up on the movie posters. I do acknowledge that both La La Land and Moonlight will most certainly take the top awards and keep their respective type of film alive and well, which I do believe is greatly important.