Moonlight is stylish but flawed Oscar-bait. The movie is divided into three parts to coincide with the boyhood, teenage-hood, and early adulthood of an African-American homosexual, from Miami, called Chiron. With striking photography and an effective score, director Barry Jenkins paints a portrait of a certain kind of black life, subtly—and sometimes not so subtly—confronting African-American stereotypes, such as swimming, single motherhood, absent fathers, crack addiction, incarceration, drug dealing, and the “hard,” heterosexual pose. This pileup of stereotypes, however elegantly handled, leads to clichéd scenes, especially ones featuring Chiron’s drug-addicted mother (Naomi Harris). Ultimately, the most resonant performance is by Jaden Piner, a boy who plays Chiron’s friend as a child, while the most effective section of the movie, the section that anchors the movie, is about Chiron as a teenager (Ashton Sanders). Here, Jenkins thrills with action, enthralls with a dream sequence, and sets up the only major love scene. It’s downhill thereon, unfortunately, because, in its third section, the movie starts to test our patience, as it lapses into moody clichés, like sidelong glances and awkward silences. Moonlight may not be a great movie, but it is The Great African-American After-School Special. And that’s not bad.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White