2016’s best film of the year for me was Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh. A film about the life and sufferings of an Aligarh Muslim University gay Marathi professor who faces subjugation and humiliation at the hands of his fellows after he is forcefully found in an intimate moment with another man. Apart from the sensational acting of Manoj Bajpai and Rajkumar Rao, what I loved about the film was the fact that the story proceeded from one point to another and remained interesting. There were moments of humor, thrill, and warmth which never let the screenplay become boring.
That is where Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight falters for me. Even though it is ravishingly shot and acted, it doesn’t have a story that would engulf you and get your attention. It is basically a collection of three very important spaces of time from the life of a guy called Chiron which shapes him into the man that he grows up to become. The three segments are called Little, Chiron and Black. In the first sequence, we meet a young Chiron who is reserved and finds it difficult to even speak his mind. He is a bullied child and has a drug addict emotionally unstable mother. He comes into contact with Juan, a drug dealer who happens to develop a soft corner for him. He shares some warm moments with him and he becomes a sort of father figure for him, one that Chiron doesn’t have. This is also the time when Chiron realizes his love and comfort for his friend Kevin who is not only accessible for him but also sympathetic to him when all the other boys of his age bully him.
The segment, Chiron, introduces us to Chiron as a young adult who is still being bullied by his classmates. He is still friends with Kevin and in a dream sequences, the director shows us that he has more than just friendly feelings for him. The two end up getting intimate soon, but then something bad happens which results in Chiron ending up being arrested. The third sequence is called Black and introduces us to an adult Chiron, who has now become a drug peddler himself. He receives a call from Kevin after years and he invites him over to his restaurant to have a meal. Chiron arrives and the two men speak about the life they have had so far and look forward to one that they may have.
The problem that I had with this film was the fact that every time my attention drifted from the performances, there was nothing else to look forward to in the narrative. It didn’t have much of a story and neither was there any twists and turns and drama that even the most blatant tales could have. The performances were brilliant. There is no denying that fact and they really got under my skin but at many junctures there were moments when I had enough of Chiron’s story. It got monotonous and the constant somber mood of the tale didn’t help matters any better. Say If Aligarh was to play in a theater in Harlem, I believe many would not get its drift and character nuances. That would then go on to reduce the overall effect of the film on the audiences. The same can be said about my experience of Moonlight. I have to agree that I may not have got all the nuances of the very American characters and a very American social system and that’s not for not paying enough attention. It’s simply was incomprehensible to me.
Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes play Chiron in the three different chapters. They are equally good. I felt Hibbert’s act was a tad bit superior as it’s really difficult for a kid of his age to get the emotions that right. He neither overdoes his stuff nor does he under perform. He is just perfect. Sanders plays the bullied kid better. His interaction with Kevin’s character was warm and wonderfully timed. Rhodes has the most haunting part of the character to play and he does so brilliantly. It must be noted that three different actors (Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and André Holland) also plays the character of Kevin who is not only Chiron’s only friend but also a major influence on his life. They perform wonderfully as well. Holland especially has a long and substantial role which really assumes meaning going by the way the film ends.
Overall, Moonlight is a sort of film that will appeal to a niche audience. The niche I refer to here is the “American niche” who have an idea of the surrounding, the social culture and the life that Chiron grows up in. Without being privy to that information, the narrative will become slow and draggy for many. Even though the performances will be a worthy payoff for those who are willing to invest in this film, it may turn out to be somewhat boring and hard to sit through. However, that’s just my view and somehow I have a feeling that this time I am wrong. So I urge you all to watch this film and make up your own minds. I hope there are people who read this review and watch this film for exactly the reasons that I disliked it for. That would be a great thing for me.
Rating : 3/5 (3 out of 5 stars)