Moonlight: tough, tender and touching

Film

‘You say it best, when you say nothing at all.’ Now why am I quoting Ronan Keating? Well, it seemed apt for this review. Given that the (now Oscar-winning) film Moonlight, is a tale where words are used sparingly, so they stand out and have weight. And a lack of words have perhaps even more weight. Particularly these days, when so many films are crammed with endless dialogue, an in-your-face score and flashy editing.

So this film feels distinctly different. And it’s a worthy awards winner, not just because it’s a breath of fresh air in terms of showing not telling a story, but it’s beautifully shot and the score doesn’t hammer you over the head dictating what you’re supposed to feel every five seconds, too.

And subject wise, it’s vitally important. As it’s about a young black man growing up in a poor part of Miami and struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. So it’s something you might expect to win at the Oscars, or at least be in the conversation. But, following last year’s #oscarssowhite debacle, if this film hadn’t won, it would’ve lost to one that glorifies Hollywood’s heyday, La La Land. A film in which a white guy educates/mansplains to a white girl about the merits of jazz (historically black music). So Moonlight winning was big news. It really was. It’s the first ever film with an all-black cast, the first LGBT film and the second lowest-grossing one to win Best Picture at the Oscars. And the film’s editor became the first black woman to be nominated, too. So yeah, big news. 

Moreover, if we’re on the subject of talking about subjects on which we’re not an authority, then I’m a prime example. There’s nothing in this film to which I can directly relate. I’m not black or gay and I had a decent upbringing etc. That said, we don’t have to immediately identify with all stories that we see at the cinema, but they have to speak to us in some way and engage us emotionally. And if you’ve ever struggled with identity and loneliness, then this has something for you.

So in terms of the story of this film, plot wise, relative newcomer director Barry Jenkins serves it up in the form of a triptych, visiting the main character, Chiron, at three key points in his life; as a child (Alex Hibbert), teenager (Ashton Sanders), and a man (Trevante Rhodes).

And all are heart-breaking in their own way, filmed in a sort of dream-like, hazy quality, like a nostalgic memory. (I’ve heard someone describe this film as Terence Malick directs an episode of The Wire.) And there’s a grittiness and realism about the whole thing as well, and this extends to the score too, and my Ronan Keating point. Because it’s rare to hear music weaved through a film quite so beautifully and respectfully. In a way that’s not overbearing or intrusive, and in some cases there’s no music at all, which may make you feel uncomfortable, but that’s the point. Some scenes and character moments need that level of discomfort, and Jenkins doesn’t shy away when you might expect him to, letting the camera linger for longer than usual. Which is brave and effective.

He also draws impressive performances from the cast, in particular the three actors that play Chiron are outstanding. Black (Trevante Rhodes) who plays him as a man, really shone, capturing the mannerisms of the two preceding actors astonishingly well. Saying so much with so little. And Naomi Harris as Chiron’s mother also puts in a convincing performance across all three story chapters, squeezing more out of a drug addict role than most actors would manage.

And Mahershala Ali as a father figure to childhood Chiron, adds layers to your standard hardened drug dealer too, breaking down our expectations of masculinity and picking up a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his troubles. (He’s also the first Muslim to win an Oscar.) He sets up the first third of the movie in terms of the feel and tone and his section, and the last, were, to me, the strongest. 

So you’ve really got no excuse. If you haven’t seen this yet. Go see it. It’s important, topical and a vital piece of cinema. It’s also a beautiful story. 

Pride: a heart-warming tale of pits and perverts

Film

There’s a scene in Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise’s Jerry accuses Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Rod Tidwell of having no heart. He responds angrily with, ‘No heart? I’m all heart motherfucker!’ That’s what you get with Pride. It’s all heart. And it very much wears it on its big gay sleeve.

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Although saying that, it’s not as flamboyant as you might think. In fact, given the ’80s working class setting and the fact that it’s split between London and a quiet mining town in Wales, there’s a very down-to-earth, British style humour on display and inevitable comparisons will be drawn with films like The Full Monty and Brassed Off. Also perhaps with films such as Cemetery Junction, as it’s half told as a coming-of-age tale from one of the younger character’s point of view.

The film starts with the group’s leader, Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) watching police clash with miners in Wales on TV. Behind him what looks to be a one-night stand says he’ll leave his number and he’d like to see him again. Mark ignores him, completely focused on the TV as an idea forms. From the off, this tells us a lot about him as a leader, he’s thoroughly committed to the cause.

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His idea: his gay friends (and one lesbian, at least initially) should support the miners. In them he sees a group of kindred spirits. They’re being bullied and harassed in the same way the gay community has for years. And so he gets buy-in from his gang, L.G.S.M. (Lesbians and Gays Support Miners) is born and they head to Wales to support their new comrades.

Throwing together an exuberant bunch of gays and a rough and ready group of Welsh miners, you could go either way. Happily director Matthew Warchus (who’s recently succeeded Kevin Spacey as creative director at the Old Vic) opts for comedy over drama for the most part, but finds time for dramatic moments throughout. As a result these scenes stand out and give the film real depth and humanity.

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When was the last time you heard the audience applaud at the end of a film?

It happened at the screening I attended. Ok, it was the Hackney Picturehouse, so you’re already playing to a fairly diverse bunch, but the point stands – this film makes you feel good. A lot is down to the characters. They’re interesting. You care about their plight and want to spend time in their presence.

Whether that’s quiet old-timer Cliff, fighting police on the picket lines (a dialled down Bill Nighy and all the more brilliant for it), flamboyant actor Jonathan (Dominic West on excellent form) disco dancing with the town’s ladies, or his quieter, more reflective partner Gethin (Andrew Scott), a local lad returning to Wales for the first time in years after being persecuted growing up – they’ve all got a fascinating story to tell and – thanks to Warchus’ direction – each make great use of the scenes they have.

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There’s a few scenes here and there which you feel Warchus cut short for the sake of keeping the story tight and focused. Probably more backstory and great character moments, but perhaps not needed if you’re being strict.

Overall the film’s message is clear and consistent throughout. It’s about sticking together, solidarity and friendship, particularly from places that you least expect when you need support the most. Oh, and (slight spoiler) you get to hear a little Welsh lady say ‘Where are my lesbians?’, which has to be worth your ticket price alone surely?