Barry Jenkins got so much right with Moonlight.
When I caught up with this year’s Academy Award winner for the coveted Best Picture trophy on my flat screen with my dear wife Karen, I sat stock still following the three-part telling of the life and times of a boy, teen and man named Chiron as grew up attempting to discover his true self amid the tough palms, beaches and people of Miami.
Screenwriter and director Jenkins adapted this gut-puncher from playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s theater work “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” and that longer title plays a role in the poetry of nicknames and dialogue of this 1-hour, 51-minute look into how the pivotal people in the African American community shape this one boy, teen and man’s view of the world and thus himself.
It’s gritty, yet tender. It’s tough, yet hopeful. There are people doing things society would label bad who have good hearts, and people who society would expect to do good unable to overcome the screaming selfish needs.
The acting is incredible in all three segments. Mahershala Ali sets the bar high as a neighborhood dealer who stumbles upon young “Little” escaping his tough peers and takes the silent boy home to meet his golden girlfriend, played with a glow by Janelle Monáe, so they can open their home and heart to this needy lad. From there the conflicts of purpose unfold realistically for all. Naomie Harris stands out as the boy’s mother who knows the dealer too well and carries an edge as tough as the peer toughs who seem to know Little’s sexual identity conflict even better than he does and refuse to budge and inch about it.
The journey as a teen is even tougher, but one friend, the guy who Chiron not only “Little” but “Black,” offers one special kindness – and a frightening lesson that sends him to Georgia and the most surprising shift as we meet his adult self.
Life has become more focused, but certainly no easier for Chiron. Trevante Rhodes as Black and Andre Holland as Frank capture the big tension and small joys.
Jenkins allows us to feel the continuing arc of inner awareness, growth – and pain.
No La La Land here. But a major triumph, indeed.
If you’ve seen ‘Moonlight,’ what did you think of the winner of Best Picture?