Moonlight will now always be famous as the film that won the Oscar for Best Picture, at the second attempt. The calamity of the Oscars is now well-known; La La Land was mistakenly announced as the winner, the error was noticed while the wrong producers were giving their speeches, and the cast and crew of Moonlight came to the stage to accept their prize.
In fact, it is interesting to note that the disastrous Oscar mix-up contained far more narrative tension, plot and surprise than the whole of the winning film – Moonlight – itself!
It is a story set in an African-American community in Florida, and is divided into three parts, covering events in the childhood, adolescence and adulthood of the main character, Chiron. Chiron is a skinny, quiet kid, and an equally skinny, withdrawn teenager. He is bullied in school, and has a drug addict for a mother.
Things change when we see him in his twenties; Chiron now looks like Fifty Cent, and is selling drugs to make ends meet. He reconnects with a childhood friend of his, who he had his first gay experience with as a teenager.
And that is basically the plot. The film is not designed to have a lot of twists and turns, or to provide plot points and surprises. It is a character study, an examination of a gay man in an environment that does not accept this identity.
Yet, if a film lacks plot, it has to have something else to make up for it. And Moonlight does not have that something. The scenes of bullying have been done many times in a thousand high-school movies and TV series. The drug addict mother has been seen many times before too, and done much better in shows like Friday Night Lights.
It is intensely slow, but it seems to mistake slowness for profundity. It is also intensely miserable, unremittingly so in the first two sections, and begins to feel a little manipulative. Look, the film is saying, look how terrible it was for him, how awful. Feel bad, feel bad! At times the story seems to revel in all of the misery, bullying, sadness.
It is the kind of independent film that you might see in a Film Club or in the Irish Film Institute; slow, low-budget, no explosions or car chases or crimes of passion. And there is a place for this type of film, and they can often work. But this one does not. It seems to believe that it is giving a powerful, unique message to the word, when in fact it is full of clichés and stuff we have seen before. It mistakes misery for meaning, slowness for intensity. It is, in fact, quite tedious to watch.
It is no surprise that the Best Picture Oscar would go to a mediocre film; there have been plenty of dud winners in the past. The reviews for this movie have been almost universally positive, so my opinion is something of an outlier, but in this case, I think, the emperor definitely has no clothes. Give me La La Land any day.