Moonlight, the newly anointed Academy Award winner for Best Picture, is a lesson in cinematic minimalism and subtlety, a film of spare, luscious vision. A lesser film would take every opportunity to remind the audience of its grand vision, its cinematic importance; such a lesser film would feature sweeping montages and visuals, cinematic moments and monologues for the actors to chew upon. Instead, director Barry Jenkins makes the right decisions in order to ensure that we’re never taken out of the experience of watching Moonlight. It’s less ostentatious and more rewarding.
Telling the story of Chiron, a black youth growing up in Miami, Moonlight chronicles three different phases of his life, as depicted with three different sets of actors. The actors don’t look much alike – but that’s not the point. All three actors manage to convey the same feelings of estrangement, and that’s really what matters.
Moonlight is, at its core, a film about loneliness, and the distinct connections that Chiron is able to forge; most noteworthy is the connection he forges with a local drug dealer, Juan (Mahershala Ali, a beacon of tenderness) and his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monáe, a star in the making); with these two, he finds a home, a place of comfort and safety.
Moonlight connects with its audiences not through universal images or situations, but with a kind of specificity that is impossible not to relate to. It is a remarkably personal film, a spare masterpiece; though it may not, on the surface, appeal to all audiences, those who look deeper will find a portrait of masculinity and loneliness unlike almost any depicted in film previously.