This highly inventive film, “Moonlight”, chronicles the life of a young African American man from childhood to adolescence to adulthood (with three different actors) in the inner city of Miami. In three acts we see this coming-of-age story of a young boy who has to face poverty, and a drug-addicted mother (played by the Academy Award-nominated actress Naomie Harris). In the first act we see bullying from other boys at school. Then we see him in the second act struggle to find his place in the world discovering his sexual identity as well as understanding his identity as black.
In the last act we see the outcome of an adult who is still fighting his demons and searching for answers. Each act focuses on our central character’s relationship with either his supportive mentor or his best friend.
The story we see in “Moonlight” is revolutionary in the way the two young black boys come to an understanding of what survival in a bullying environment will demand of each of them. This could be any child’s challenge in the school yard.
The acting is beyond reproach. Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali (“Juan”) and Naomie Harris give flawlessly heartbreaking performances. As a viewer I found Ali so brilliant in such an appealing role that, for me, he’s the highlight of “Moonlight” and the film sags in the middle partly because of his absence. I also thought the boy “Little” was so charming and the performance so raw it was astonishing for such a young actor to achieve.
The writing does not match the excellence of the acting. While there is a portrayal of deep compassion and sympathy for a fellow human being who is doing what we all are — navigating the complexities of doing the best we can in the world we are born into, scenes and dialog were not tight enough and there was a languishing on couches, at the dinner table, in the classroom which did nothing to contribute to the characters’ magic. Yet, there is magic too, in seeing a young boy grow up and accept a different idea of identity and masculinity than is expected.
The lugubrious pacing detracts from the searing and unforgettable plight of the main character. “Moonlight” would have sputtered out of gas in Act Three if it were not for the final scene with Kevin. The dialog is weak, more noticeable because the silence of the characters in key scenes is so powerful. The flow of the film is jagged. I recommend “Moonlight” for its originality and acting, but the writing and pacing, I thought, held it back from being an unquestionable winner.