Either all the critics are wrong, or I’m wrong. According to the lot of them, and every right-thinking pundit, Moonlight, the film about a black youth discovering his sexuality, is one of those transformative films which leaves every other movie nowhere. In a just world, as Deborah Ross of this parish put it, ‘it’s Moonlight that deserves every award going’ at the Oscars rather than stupid La La Land. I don’t have any sort of axe to grind on the latter but what I can tell you is that I saw Moonlight last night, and if I hadn’t been nicely brought up and unwilling to upset anyone, I’d have been off like a shot half an hour before it finished on the basis that this was 30 minutes from an evanescent life that I’ll never have back. I’d like to think that this is just a gender thing, that men can get the point of a film that goes absolutely nowhere about alienated youth, whereas women want a bit of a story. But nope; Deborah Ross has put paid to that. But it’s not just me; the girl I took to the screening also found it utterly pointless too, apart from the good bit.
This is, as anyone who reads about film knows by now, a coming of age movie. A boy grows up in a dilapidated bit of Miami with his druggie mother (Naomie Harris); is bullied for being soft and gay, and then grows up to be a drug dealer who resurrects the gay encounter of his schooldays and realises he is indeed gay. Whoops… there I go, I gave away the plot. Silly me. Alex R. Hibbert, who plays the hero, Chiron, as a child deserves an Oscar all by himself for being able to convey more without opening his trap than anyone else in the movie.
It all starts terrifically well with the adorable Alex R.H. and the man who becomes his protector, Mahershala Ali. Fine, you think, this is the start of the redemptive story, that of Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play, based on his own experience. Then we get to the next actor and the next bit of the story: Chiron getting bullied in his grim high school, a life redeemed only by a friendship that takes a sexual turn. And then we get to the grown-up Chiron, who looks up his old friend, and resurrects their encounter… and nothing much happens. Now, this is a film about being black and gay, which, as Deborah Ross rightly points out is a subject that gets next to no airing in contemporary cinema. I was rather keen to encounter a world I know next to nothing about.
But, you know, it’s quite nice to have a story, a plot, and this seemed set to be a redemptive movie. I want a narrative arc, not merely some fabulous shots and some juddery camerawork which made me feel a bit unwell. We see stuff go on, like bullying, and then peter out. We are, as viewers, left high and dry and, in my case, desperately bored. But when I ventilated about all this to the arts editor of the Evening Standard he clicked disapprovingly. ‘Not every story needs a narrative arc.’
My friend, as I say, was bored too. ‘I didn’t want to say anything in case I was wrong,’ she said apologetically. And, you know, I think an awful lot of people will pay a tenner to see the film and be bored too and will keep their traps shut for the same reason. There’s a sense that because of the subject matter, viz, being black and gay (the sex is sensitively dealt with), it’s bad taste to suggest that it’s an overrated film. I don’t know whether the critics, checking their privileges, similarly felt that it would be bad form to diss a film that deals with this under-rehearsed subject matter, but I’m certain that this will weigh with the Oscar-awarding judges, who have a bad conscience about last year’s black no-shows. But you know what: this emperor is semi clothed. If you go and see it and want to get right out of there, you’re not alone. Sometimes the critics are just all wrong.