Having already picked up Best Motion Picture Drama award at the Golden Globes, the film has also been nominated for eight Academy Awards, making it the second most nominated film of the year, so it does seem that Moonlight is really living up to it hype.
Moonlight is the story of Chiron, a boy growing up in Miami, who is trying to come to terms with identity, family, peers and sexuality. The film takes place over three separate stages of his life; as a young boy, a teenager and a young adult. One of the risks of a segmented film like Moonlight is that one particularly segment may stand out more than others, whereas as one may shy in weakness in comparison, however this is not the case in Moonlight. Director Barry Jenkins treats each segment of Chiron's life with the same amount of delicacy, and focuses the same amount of time in each stage of his life. One of the few criticism's the film has been facing is the lack of physical likeness between the three different actors portraying Chiron. I don't think this matters. Jenkins' isn't necessarily telling the story of one person here, he's mediating on the more universal themes of trials of growing up; coming to terms with ones identity.
If we were to argue that one segment slightly shone brighter than the others, then it would be the first, purely for Mahershala Ali's Oscar nominated performance as drug dealer come father, Jaun. Naomie Harris also shines throughout with a transformative turn as Chiron's crack addict mother, who is also nominated for an Oscar. Janelle Monae's role as Juan's incredibly understanding partner is also worthy of mention.
Moonlight, though a big awards contender which is easily making masses more than its modest budget at the box office, is first and foremost an art-house film. The film's cinematography transcends even typical American Independent fare, playing with depths of focus and movement to stunning effect. The contrast between the spiralling 360 degree shots and static framing allows the audience to breathe and take in the beauty of the film. What really stands out in Moonlight however, is its sound design; juxtaposing moments of silence, diegetic sounds and the gut-wrenching chamber orchestra score choreographed meticulously and harmoniously along with the cinematography. It would be easy for Moonlight to overuse the score to tug at the audience's emotions, but it's much more clever, letting the faces of the characters tell the story and orchestrate the emotions, which only makes the score more powerful when it actually kicks in.
An unfair dismissal of Moonlight is that it is just a queer film. Yes, it is a film about a young man struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality, but Moonlight is a film that explores masculinity more generally and questions what defines masculinity; whether that is becoming a father figure, aggression between peers or having sexual contact with another male.
One of the things critics always try and do is draw comparisons between other films, be it thematically or stylistically, however I'm failing to do that with Moonlight. There is not one comparrison I can make with Moonlight, because it is an utterly original film. And that originality, on top of its poignancy and beauty, is what makes it utterly un-missable.
Book your ticket to Moonlight here.