“Moonlight” Is A Desperately Needed Act Of Grace

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“Moonlight” is a desperately needed act of healing grace.

mmIt’s a fluidly styled triptych portrait of flawed people facing character defining moments.

We are all more than we front – Hillary calls it public and private lives – and our behavior and actions hide as much as they reveal.

None more so than the troubled black youth who grows up in three chapters, from bullied grade school aged son of a crack addict and sexually confused adolescent with one friend into a drug dealer whose hyper masculine facade hides his secret pain.

The easy comparison to this second feature by Barry Jenkins is “Boyhood” – without that films real life twelve year filming schedule.

But “Moonlight” has a refraction reminiscent of the shattered mirror films of Alejandro Innaritu Gonzalez – like “21 Grams” – where pieces of broken lives are assembled before our eyes, into something hopeful.

mm1But Innaritu would have scrambled what Jenkins portrays in chronological order.

By comparison time stood still in his 2008 film “Medicine For Melancholy” about 24 hours in the life of a first date.

Jenkins adapted the screenplay from the play “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who has a story by credit here.

I feel fortunate that I knew nothing about the film prior to seeing it. This added an element of mystery to the sense of wonder. So it feels like cheating to reveal beforehand – spoiler alert but noted in reviews and ads – that it also resembles “Brokeback Mountain.”

mmwaterSexual repression is crucial layer in this morally complex tale and its awakening is like a surprise deep inside a nesting doll. Three actors play the youth/man and each hits a different nerve in the character’s tortured psyche.

The child is father to the man literally in the powerful first segment where the youth, played with a quiet fierceness by Alex R. Hibbert, is befriended by a drug dealer, played by Mahershala Ali.

The youth is a direct consequence of the epidemic fed by Ali, who becomes a compassionate surrogate father figure.

Ali, Naomie Harris as the volatile single mother in the grips of her addiction, and each of the youths – also   Ashton Sanders as the tortured teen and fierce but sensitive Trevonte Rhodes in the image of Ali’s character – deserve end of year awards individually and as an ensemble, as do Jenkins and the film itself.

Hopefully awards can propel this perceptive and cautiously optimistic tale to a wider audience, as the still born “The Birth of a Nation” hoped to do. Jenkins film is a door cracked opened just enough, apologies to Leonard Cohen, to let the moonlight. in.

***1/2 Three and one half stars

With Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Alex R. Hibbert, Trevonte Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Janelle Monae, Jaden Piner, Jharelle Jerome, Andre Holland.

Produced by Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner.

Written and directed by Barry Jenkins.

Approximately 110 minutes.

Rated R; language, drug use, sexuality, violence.

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