Much like 2014's Boyhood, Moonlight, the new drama from writer-director Barry Jenkins, traces the life of a boy, starting with his grade-school days and concluding with adulthood. While Jenkins doesn't go to the same lengths that writer-director Richard Linklater did with Boyhood, which he filmed over the course of 12 years, he does aim high as he tries to capture the complexity of a young gay black man's life. Terrific acting distinguishes the movie. It opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre.
Divided into three parts, the film begins with a segment about Chiron (Alex Hibbert), a shy young boy who hides in an abandoned apartment one afternoon to avoid some bullies from school. When the local crack dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) finds him hiding out, he takes him to his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe) and the two become his surrogate parents, providing him with a place to go when his drug addict mother (Naomie Harris) gets strung out.
Kevin (Jaden Piner), his one friend during this time, tries to get him to toughen up and warns him that if he doesn't stand up to the school's bullies, he'll constantly be harassed. Flash forward to high school, and the school bullies still pick on Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders). While he and Kevin (now played by Jharrel Jerome) remain friends, Chiron still has problems with his abusive mother and regularly seeks refuge with Teresa, who's now a widow. It's not giving anything away to say that the bullying and teasing push Chiron to the brink, and he snaps one day.
In the film's final act, Chiron (now played by Trevante Rhodes) bears a striking resemblance to Juan and has followed in his footsteps. After doing hard time, he stopped taking the abuse from others and became a hardened drug dealer who even drives the same car that Juan drove. The movie's final act includes a scene in which he visits Kevin (now played by André Holland), who works as a server and cook at a diner. While Kevin and Chiron had an intimate moment when they were young, Kevin has married and had a child while Chiron continues to question just what his sexual orientation might be.
The film's true strength lies in the acting. The actors who portray both Kevin and Chiron at the various stages of their lives maintain a real consistency in their portrayals of the characters and make this movie seem more like a compelling documentary than a fictional tale as it chronicles a particularly difficult coming-of-age.