Regardless of its exceptional acting performances and a believability rating off the charts, “Moonlight” can’t shake a slow, depressing, and unimaginative storyline. – Patrick King, REEL BRIEF.com
Each year at least one movie mistakenly emerges from the film festival circuit oozing accolades from the judges while generating Oscar Best Picture chatter from the direction of Hollywood elites standing nearby. Last year’s head-scratcher was the stop-motion, monotone downer “Anomalisa” stealing an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. This year that misplaced honor will undoubtedly go to “Moonlight”, the sluggish indie film about a young black man who grows up in Miami surrounded by trouble.
Regardless of its exceptional acting performances and a believability rating off the charts, “Moonlight” can’t shake a slow, depressing, and unimaginative storyline. The younger versions of Chiron (impeccably played by both Alex Hibbert and Ashton Sanders at different stages of childhood) must tiptoe around bullies at school and his drug addicted mother at home. The heartbreaking internal struggles within Chiron are perfectly choreographed and explained. It’s the journey, however, that “Moonlight” takes its viewers that falls well short on interest along a circuitous path.
The film’s strongest feature is the compassion given to Chiron by a boyfriend and girlfriend duo, who find the youngster eluding name-callers at school and physical troublemakers in hot pursuit. Both Good Samaritans, particularly the standout performance by Mahershala Ali, oddly lose out on-screen time and influence over Chiron’s life and the film as this story unfolds. And without these two positive influences upon Chiron, his fate–and the movie’s interest level–is doomed.
“Moonlight” is last year’s reality check and mega-successful film “Straight Outta Compton” minus the hip hop gangsta rap music. Whereas street-savvy rappers Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E. created music to escape south Los Angeles’ rampant drugs and violence, Chiron and this script don’t fair nearly as well.
“Straight Outta Compton” took viewers on a mesmerizing journey started from the entertainers’ life-changing, formative years. “Moonlight” and Chiron’s part never capitalize on his early plight to chart an alternative and interesting course change. Instead, the young boy’s life spirals downward into the drug dealer career path his mother’s crack addiction modeled for him. Similarly, Chiron’s gay lifestyle preference is stopped short of his true content and happiness by the film’s uninspiring end.
All of which leaves us to wonder what profound journey this film embarked upon?
Come January, “Moonlight” and her cast will receive several Oscar nominations. Some, for individual performances, will be richly deserved. But any nominations for Best Picture or screenplay excellence will prove harder to justify.
“Moonlight” is showing now at The Loft Cinema in Tucson and select cities throughout the U.S. It’s rated R for some sexuality, drug use, brief violence and language throughout. The film’s running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.
© 2016, Patrick. All rights reserved.
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