A tender, subtle coming-of-age drama chronicling the troubled growth to manhood of a black boy from a drug-plagued Miami neighbourhood.

Moonlight Alex Hibbert

This is the story of a lifetime. 

This, of course, is the underdog movie that pipped the runaway favourite, La La Land, to the 2017 Best Picture Oscar in chaotic circumstances at this year’s awards ceremony. But it will be a great shame if that excruciating envelope mix-up comes to overshadow Moonlight’s genuine merits.

Adapted by director Barry Jenkins from Tarell Alvin McCraney’s semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, the film is a tender, subtle coming-of-age drama, chronicling the troubled growth to manhood of a boy from a drug-plagued Miami neighbourhood.

The story divides into three chapters, each taking its title from the name the protagonist answers to at different stages in his life. ‘Little’ is a 10-year-old boy (Alex Hibbert) who suffers neglect from his meth-addict mother (Naomie Harris) but finds a kind father figure in local drug dealer Juan (the charismatic, Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali). ‘Chiron’ (his actual given name) is a high school teenager (Ashton Sanders) struggling to come to terms with his sexuality and facing homophobic bullying from his peers. And ‘Black’ is a deeply closeted drug-dealing ex-con (Trevante Rhodes) who returns to Miami from Atlanta for an emotionally charged reunion with his boyhood best friend.

Jenkins handles this intimate tale with assurance and delicacy, seducing us with the film’s gorgeous photography and drawing us ever deeper into its hero’s fraught journey. And he gets outstanding performances from his cast, too.

Certificate 15. Runtime 111 mins. Director Barry Jenkins

Moonlight available on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Download from Altitude Film Distribution.