“Moonlight” is a coming of age story about a bullied boy with a bad home life and his struggle in coming to terms with who he is and who he wants to be. This is a quality film but it is difficult to put my finger on what makes it so good. Every individual aspect of the film is good but the whole seems to be greater than the sum of its parts. Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris received Oscar nominations in the Supporting categories and, while both play their roles perfectly, their limited ranges of emotional expression prevent them from having that one moment where I know that they deserve to win. They are the most interesting characters in the film and I really wanted to see more of them but they disappeared way too fast. The best performance probably comes from the combination of all three actors that play Chiron. The character is meant to be shy and emotionally detached so we don’t get to experience the full extent of their acting chops, but I was amazed by the consistency of mannerisms between the three actors. It made it believable that we are seeing this one person throughout three phases of life (lots of credit to director Barry Jenkins for this). So if the acting isn’t the standout part of the film, maybe it is the story. It hits on two hot button issues (race and homosexuality), though I believe that the important theme of the film is about becoming a product of your environment more than either of those issues. The subject matter was handled tastefully, with the exception of the one scene which would have been uncomfortable regardless of the genders of the characters. That being said, it could have been much more graphic than it was and I appreciate them sparing these teenage actors from having to go beyond where they did. If the story isn’t what elevates it above all other films, maybe it is the editing and cinematography. I appreciated the Tarantino approach of dividing the film into three distinctive chapters to show Chiron’s progression through life. Outside of that, the editing wasn’t anything too creative and the cinematography didn’t wow me. Even Nicholas Britell’s score served its purpose with its ethereal theme at key moments in the film but it wasn’t at the level of most Oscar-winning scores. It is difficult to specify any particular aspect of this film that has earned its critical acclaim, 8 Oscar nominations, and 50/50 shot of winning Best Picture in a showdown against “La La Land.” Instead, the emotional content in “Moonlight” engages us in a way that the rest doesn’t matter.
[Pictured: This has become the iconic image from the film but I would have loved to see twice as much of the paternal relationship with Mahershala Ali]